CT Progressive Democrat

News and Views from CT State Representative David McCluskey / Democrat - West Hartford

Friday, December 03, 2010


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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Amtrak Next-Gen High Speed Rail Vision for Connecticut

Yesterday, Amtrak revealed its new 40 year plan for High-Speed Rail in the Northeast Corridor. The goal is to achieve sustained speeds of 220 miles an hour with a three hour trip time between Boston and Washington, DC.

To accomplish this, Amtrak proposes new dedicated high-speed rail alignments and equipment. For the segment from New York City to Boston, the route featured in the report is NYC to Danbury, Waterbury, Hartford through Rhode Island.

This route was analyzed because MetroNorth's New Haven Line between New Rochelle and New Haven has capacity constraints and the Amtrak-owned, Shore Line Route from New Haven to Rhode Island has curvature restrictions (which slows down trains) and design requirements to meet environmental concerns. The environmental concerns are not elaborated in the report, but some must involve the multiple river crossings/bridges along the route.

In the report, Amtrak details the economic value of Next-Gen High-Speed Rail for Hartford. It estimates that such service would provide travel times between Hartford and NYC that are comparable to what Stamford currently enjoys. The population and jobs within 90 minutes travel of such service would be 4 to 5 times higher than Hartford's current transportation network.

You can access the report by going to www.amtrak.com, going to Inside Amtrak and then click on Reports and Documents.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Trooper's Funeral

I attended the funeral services for Trooper First Class Kenneth Hall outside the State Armory in Hartford two weeks ago.

Of course, there was a lot of media coverage - video, photos and lots of text. But, for me, there was something visceral and substantive that was not focused on by the media - the Silence shown for this police officer who most of us - including me - never knew.

In this age of incessant chatter & connectivity, most of the police officers and the public who were outside awaiting the Funeral motorcade spoke quietly and infrequently. Cell phones, those ubiquitous devices, were used at a minimum. Most of the officers stood quietly and at attention. Of course, there was not complete silence - the Armory is near I-84 and several trains ran behind the building during the gathering. But I was struck on this day how truly loud & powerful a symbol Silence is in this day and age. The police and the public knew how important it was to focus on the sacrifice made by Trooper Hall despite all the other stimula and activity that go on in our lives. It may not be an expensive gift in dollar amount, but I believe the quiet and dignity shown on behalf of Trooper Hall was indeed an enormous display of respect and gratitude by those in attendance. The Silence spoke volumes.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

New England Passenger & Freight Rail Vision

Recently, an ad hoc group of rail advocates, Rail New England, wrote the New England Governors to urge them to follow the lead of fellow governors in the Midwest and Southeast and achieve consensus on a comprehensive plan for a 21st century rail network for the region.

Time is of the essence because High Speed Rail (HSR) grant requests are due August 6th to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the quality of the projects currently being requested by the New England states leave much to be desired. The results of the last round of grants – $8 billion was available from the FRA, but New England only received $200 million, a paltry 2.5%.

Similarly, there is a need to support the freight rail system through public-private partnerships (PPP) with freight railroads through TIGER grants. In the last round of these grants, many freight rail projects were submitted and awarded, but none for New England. Applications for 2010 Tiger II grants are due on August 23, 2010.

Despite some gaps in the rail network, there is a key advantage on the passenger rail side. New England already has a high end, high speed rail offering in the Northeast Corridor (NEC), but it requires further investment to reach its full potential. The NEC has Acela trainsets capable of 165 mph, a 230 mile (New York City <-> Boston) electrified right of way (ROW), and portions of that ROW where the trains routinely hit 150 mph. No other region of the country has this advantage. The Boston-New York corridor can be upgraded to true HSR for a fraction of what it will cost to achieve similar result in the approved California and Florida projects. Why cannot New England build on this unique strength with the following visions for passenger & freight rail?

Proposed Regional Passenger Rail Projects:

1. Upgrade the NEC (Northeast Corridor) from New York City (Penn Station) to Boston (South Station) to enable true High Speed Rail service.
a. Acela Express (non-stop): 1 hr 45 min, avg. speed - 130 mph
b. Acela Standard (normal Acela stops) 2 hrs 15 min, avg. speed – 100 mph

2. Build the North/South Rail Link (NSRL) in Boston and extend the NEC northward, from South Station, Boston to Montreal, Canada. Certify for 110 mph speed.
a. Phase 1: South Station, Boston to Manchester, NH
b. Phase 2: Manchester, NH to Montreal, Quebec (via Concord, NH, Montpelier, VT, Burlington, VT), and Woburn, MA to Portland, ME

3. Upgrade the “Knowledge Corridor” (New Haven <-> Hartford <-> Springfield) and “Inland Route” (New York City<->New Haven<->Springfield<->Boston). Certify for 110 mph operation.

Proposed Regional Freight Rail Proposals:

1. Built/Restore Infrastructure to state of good repair on key lines.

2. Upgrade critical North/South and East/West freight rail lines and associated feeder lines that run from Atlantic Ocean and Long Island Sound seaports to New York state and Canadian border gateways.
a. East/West: New York state line to Boston seaport at Conley (South Boston) and Moran (Charlestown) terminals
b.North/South from Connecticut seaports to the Canadian border.

3. Upgrade NE freight network to national standards for seamless travel throughout region and country:
a. 286,000 lb weight capacity, Class 5 operational status
b.Plate I double stack height (20 ft, 9 in) on main lines. Where electrified locomotives are currently in use, or such use is planned, height should conform to the national electrification standard of 23 feet.

4. Regional collaboration on Public-Private-Partnerships (PPP) for states, federal government, and key railroads on rail infrastructure:
a. Ensure infrastructure is adequate to retail, support and grow rail freight activity.
(i.e. rail yards, passing sidings, seaport access, intermodal facilities, inland ports, etc.).
b. Establish land bank of currently unused rail served land/facilities/ROW for the future use.

Investment is sorely needed in our region’s freight rail lines. In the continental 48 states, rail commonly holds a 25% to 40% share of freight traffic. Not so in New England where less than 10% of freight travels by rail. The rest of the goods are expensively transported by truck. New England freight rail lines have not kept up with national standards in terms of height clearance, weight capacities, and speed.

The seaports have inadequate or non-existent rail freight service and adjoining land, needed for related logistics support, is quickly disappearing. The region has been steadily losing its rail freight infrastructure, resulting in marginal operations that do not provide competitive service or adequate return on reinvestment.

Reversing this trend will have many benefits for New England. The Panama Canal is being widened to accommodate a new class of super-tankers. This presents economic opportunities for freight business and job creation throughout the region. Moving freight from trucks to trains will lower the cost of living and doing business in New England, decrease congestion on highways, and lessen wear and tear on roads and bridges.

Among those signing onto the letter are: the Association for Public Transportation, the Eastern Massachusetts Freight Rail Coalition, the Connecticut & Massachusetts Chapters of the Sierra Club, the New Hampshire Railroad Revitalization Association.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

North Branch of the Park River Renewal

www.northparkplan.net is a website detailing efforts to improve the quality & public access to the North Branch of the Park River.

The North Branch Park River Watershed Management Plan is currently gathering community ideas and concerns, through July 21st. The planning process will formally conclude on July 30th.

The project team has summarized the North Branch Park River Watershed Management Plan process to citizen and professional stakeholders in Bloomfield, Hartford and West Hartford. Persons interested in planning and development issues that impact the North Branch watershed are encouraged to visit the website to review the Plan Proposal drafts and to post your thoughts/concerns in the comment section of the website to encourage an online exchange of ideas.

The majority of the watershed - over 68% - is within Bloomfield, 14% of the watershed overlaps into northern West Hartford. The northwestern neighborhoods of Hartford, Blue Hills, Asylum Hill and the West End are within 11% of the North Branch Park River watershed. The remaining 3% of the watershed land area is within Windsor, Avon and Simsbury.

Many institutions currently front the aboveground portion of the North Branch Park River in Hartford including the University of Hartford, the UConn Law School, the Village of Family & Children Services and the Watkinson School.

Despite the significant development within the watershed and its impaired water quality, the North Branch Park River is still considered an asset to these institutions due to its landscape function on their campuses. Other groups have also recognized its value in terms of landscape presence and have modified the land adjacent to the river to enhance its visibility and its aesthetic appeal, an example being the recently redeveloped Goodwin Estates residences.

The potential exists for a regional vision to be developed where the upper watershed communities can offer substantial water quality and habitat protection benefits while the urban areas can provide the urban river experience with the river forming a physical and emotional connection to the community.

The planning process will address the unique challenges of managing urban waterways as a valuable natural resource within the context of private and public building development, preservation and property uses. The watershed management plan shall characterize the watershed conditions, identify, investigate, and address current and emerging issues facing the watershed, so as to recommend potential changes that can improve water quality.

The primary objectives of the watershed management plan are to:
• Characterize existing river, riparian corridor and watershed conditions;
• Identify and assess watershed problems and issues;
• Foster regional land and water solutions and protecting the urban riverway and surrounding forest lands;
• Integrate water quality, stream flow, aquatic and riparian habitat, and land use and preservation needs;
• Identify land or land rights acquisition to further protect and allow responsible public access to the river,
• Examine traditional and non-traditional innovative approaches to pollution control and prevention; and
• Provides guidance for local land use decision- makers to address stormwater and non-point sources of pollution with a focus on sustainable development practices.

When complete, the watershed management plan will serve as a comprehensive, scientifically-sound, and practical planning document for the protection and restoration of water resources and habitat in the North Branch Park River watershed. Measurable water quality improvements are an anticipated outcome of the North Branch Park River Watershed Management Plan process.

Friday, May 28, 2010

New England Rail Coalition Website

The New England Rail Coalition's website is now up and running: www.newenglandrailcoalition.org.

The New England Rail Coalition (NERC) is a broad-based alliance of public and private entities, elected officials, planning organizations, and environmental and transportation groups that recognize the importance of substantially reinvesting in rail – both passenger and freight – to build a balanced and sustainable transportation system that will safeguard and enhance New England’s economy, environment, and quality of life.

NERC believes New England has a number of important rail successes upon which to build, but that significant opportunities exist to develop a rail network that strengthens New England as a region. Such opportunities include:

•Improvements to the speed, frequency and reliability of existing passenger and freight services.
•Relief of chokepoints that interfere with freight rail operations, and which undermine the efficiency of both freight and passenger movement.
•The expansion of critical rail infrastructure, including but not limited to the following projects (listed from north to south):
◦Extension of The Downeaster north of Portland, Maine, and achieving high speed service from Portland, through New Hampshire, to Boston.
◦Establishment of high-speed rail on the Boston-to-Montreal Corridor, linking Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont with one another, and with Canada.
◦Upgrade of track and facilities on Vermont’s Western Corridor to accommodate freight and expand passenger rail to Burlington, VT.
◦Establishment of the Knowledge Corridor, with the rehabilitation of track infrastructure from Springfield, MA to White River Junction, VT, to improve the Amtrak’s Vermonter service, enable future commuter rail, and access three major western MA population centers (Holyoke, Northampton and Greenfield).
◦Establishment of the New Hampshire Capitol Corridor, linking three major New Hampshire cities (Concord, Manchester and Nashua) with Boston, and providing access to Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.
◦The North-South Rail Link connecting North and South Stations in Boston, eliminating the last 1-mile gap on the Eastern Seaboard’s Northeast Corridor, and providing a vital link that enhances the value of other projects located to the north and south of Boston.
◦Enhancement of service on the “Inland Route,” connecting Boston and New York through Worcester, Springfield, Hartford and New Haven.
◦Establishment of Blackstone Valley Commuter Rail, with service between Woonsocket and Providence, RI, to T.F. Green Airport in Warwick, and with potential service to Worcester, MA.
◦Establishment of New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter rail service, serving population centers in CT and MA.
◦Improvements to the Northeast Corridor, particularly in CT, to reduce trip times on Amtrak’s high speed Acela service.

The website will be a living document. So if you have images (the site could use some good New England freight rail images), or become aware of important news to be added, please submit your ideas. There is a page listing all of NERC’s organizational members, with hyperlinks to each organization (go through the “About Us” page to find).

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Pope's Encyclical on Global Economy Supports the Principles of the Employee Free Choice Act

Unions important “today even more than in the past,” says Holy Father

Washington, DC – Catholics for Working Families (www.catholicsforworkingfamiles.org), a coalition of Catholic organizations formed to help pass the pro-union Employee Free Choice Act, today welcomed Pope Benedict XVI's new encyclical Caritas in Veritate. The document contains a bold critique of unregulated free market capitalism and reiterates unequivocally the Catholic Church’s longstanding support for labor unions and the central role they play in ensuring workers' rights and just economic development.

The Employee Free Choice Act will remove legal barriers to union organizing and negotiations by setting up a simpler and more democratic process by which workers may choose to form unions, requiring mediation in cases of first contract disputes, and imposing stricter penalties on employers who violate existing workers' right protections. The legislation and Caritas in Veritate share a common recognition that workers have an inviolable right to organize, and that employers ought to treat their workers with dignity and respect.

“The rise of globalization has coincided with a widening gap between wealth and poverty, and a steady decline in U.S. union membership. Pope Benedict's new encyclical reminds us that these sea-changes in the global economic order are not unrelated,” said Dr. Joseph Fahey, professor of religious studies at Manhattan College and chair of Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice. “In light of the pope’s reaffirmation of the importance of labor unions, we ask our fellow Catholics, especially those in the business community, to join us now in calling for the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.”

According to Pope Benedict:
“The repeated calls issued within the Church's social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum[60], for the promotion of workers' associations that can defend their rights must therefore be honoured today even more than in the past, as a prompt and far-sighted response to the urgent need for new forms of cooperation at the international level, as well as the local level.”

Each year, thousands of U.S. workers are subjected to illegal harassment and intimidation by employers who exploit lax penalties and other deficiencies in existing labor laws in order to prevent their employees from organizing. Countless more union members are trapped in bitter and unproductive contract disputes by employers who refuse to bargain in good faith. The Employee Free Choice Act will help remedy these abuses by preventing what Pope Benedict terms efforts to “limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labour unions.”

“I have seen firsthand the lengths to which some employers will go to prevent workers from exercising their legal and moral right to form a union – threatening, intimidating, and even firing workers who attempt to organize,” said Chris Korzen, a former health care union organizer and now executive director of Catholics United. “Passing the Employee Free Choice Act is the best way to protect workers from violations like these and to answer the pope's call for increased support of organized labor.”

Pope Benedict also called on unions to “turn their attention to those outside their membership” and become more active participants in the broader struggle for justice. Many unions in the U.S. have already embraced this role, notably those who are currently investing heavily in the upcoming legislative push for universal healthcare. The Catholic Church regards health care as a basic human right.

Several Catholic senators have not yet taken a position on the Employee Free Choice Act, including Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on the legislation before the August recess.

For more information:
Caritas in Veritate: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20090629_caritas-in-veritate_en.html.

The Employee Free Choice Act: http://www.americanrightsatwork.org/employee-free-choice-act.
Catholics for Working Families: www.catholicsforworkingfamilies.org.

About Catholics for Working Families:
Catholics for Working Families is a project of Catholics United, with support from Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, and Pax Christi USA.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Hartford Courant Editorial on Full-Time Lawmaking is Sophomoric

I know you are not supposed to attack those who buy paper and ink in bulk, but today's Hartford Courant Editorial on Full-Time Lawmaking is amateurish and not worthy of our state's "Paper of Record" [N.B. I don't know if Zell sold this title off when he pink-slipped a large number of the Courant's writers].

The Editorial admonishes the General Assembly to do the Public's work on time. OK. Fine. Now just what is the General Assembly suppose to do in three and five month sessions? 1) Adopt state budgets - our primary responsibility. 2) Enact new laws, modify/repeal old laws. 3) Conduct oversight/review of the Executive/Judiciary Branches. We are obliged to do these things with public imput and imput from the Governor and her state agencies. This takes a significant amount of time within our regular sessions.

The principal criticism seems to be that special sessions run up the cost of government. So what percentage is the General Assembly's TOTAL budget in comparison to the overall state budget? - less than 2%. So an argument about the cost of special sessions is ludicrous. Executive branch agencies like DSS & DCF waste the cost of a special session on a good day/week. One court case/consent decree can pay the cost of having a year-long special session. I could argue that if the General Assembly, or a portion of it, met year-round scandals in the Executive/Judicial Branches MIGHT be reduced and the delivery of state services MIGHT improve. No guarantees, but I believe the biggest failure of the General Assembly is oversight. I think recent state government history well-documents this belief. Oversight takes time/resources/staff.

Within a three/five month session, much time is given over to the public hearing/deliberation process. All bills must have a public hearing; they must be deliberated in committee and then other committees may review them before the full House & Senate take action on them. Democracy does not equal efficiency. The House also has a tradition of unlimited debate - the Question is never called and a Representative may speak on a bill on three seperate occasions without the permission of the Assembly. My experience with this tradition has been mostly positive. We have killed bad bills this way and made good bills better - often because the Minority Party has found flaws in the legislation. In addition, under our state constitution, bills not enacted in the first year of our two year term die on the House or Senate Calendar and have to go through the entire public hearing/legislative process in the second year. This is inefficient, but it does have the effect of reducing somewhat the volume of bills we deliberate.

Have I reached the conclusion that CT needs a full-time General Assembly? NO. I think there are a lot of negative consequences of having a legislature in session full-time. However, telling the General Assembly to be more efficient without any serious reflection on the constraints of the current legislative process and without any substantive recommendations is sophomoric and unhelpful.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Funding Non-Profits Smarter

There is no doubt that the Executive Branch and the Legislature have seriously underfunded the non-profits organizations which provide so many social and other services to CT residents.

The increases they have received in the last decade or more are below the inflation rate and far below the increases in health insurance and energy costs. They are in dire shape. But to really address this issue in a thoughtful, long-term way we need to do much more than just give them money. As a practical matter, given the state's spending cap and the other demands on state dollars, CT can not give the non-profits the kind of increases in funding they need to stabilize their operations. We need to fund them smarter. We need to assist them with their cost drivers such as health care and energy and incentivize them into working together/consolidating back-room operations/expenses whenever possible.

For example, the state subsidizes a big variation among the non-profits concerning health insurance. Some non-profit employees are on the state's HUSKY program because their non-profit can not provide affordable, comprehensive health insurance. Many are simply too small to get private health insurance at a reasonable cost. Other non-profits provide decent health insurance, but are hard-pressed. They must ask employees for higher co-pays and premiums or little to no wage increases in order to do so.

Instead, since many of these non-profits mostly/exclusively provide state services with state funding we should find a way to bring them into the state employee health care pool. Candidly, this is easier said then done because of the diversity of the non-profit community and the variation in health insurance they provide and how much it costs them. But if we can find a way to do so, we can provide them with decent health insurance at an affordable price. The state employee plan (actually, there are several plans provided by several private health insurance companies) is comprehensive and has not had the huge annual increases that non-profits have faced. If the non-profits which can not afford health insurance for their workers, this will allow them to attract and keep good employees. For those which already provide decent health insurance going into the state health insurance pool should allow them to do so at a lower cost and/or with lower annual increases.

The State should also use its purchasing power to assist non-profits with their energy costs. Again, since these non-profits are providing state services with state dollars, the State is already, albeit indirectly, paying for their energy costs - just very inefficiently.

However, before we assist them with the capital costs of weatherization, getting more efficient lighting and heating infrastructures, etc. we need to get more information on the non-profits. Are there too many stand-alone buildings? Are they in the right locations? Can multiple non-profits be co-located to save money and provide better services to the state resident they serve? We don't know the answers right now. The Departments of Developmental Services, Mental Health & Addiction Services & Social Services should assess all the non-profits they fund and share the information among them to figure out the best way to proceed.

Finally, we should incentivize non-profits to combine non-direct care services whenever possible.
Personnel, Legal, Custodial, Repair and even Executive Director services may be able to be shared among non-profits especially if we can get them to co-locate. We are subsidizing a lot of costly inefficiency.

Does that mean every non-profit can be co-located have all its back office operations shared with other non-profits? Of course NOT. For some services provided for some state residents this may be inappropriate, inefficient or unacceptable. But, we won't know until we ask the questions and challenge the non-profit community.

Just like we must incentivize municipalities and boards of education to share services between and among them to achieve economies of scale whenever possible and appropriate, we must do so with the non-profit community. We can not afford to do otherwise.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The first empirical study of the social and economic impact of multi-use trails in the Farmington Valley was recently completed by the Farmington Valley Trails Council. Below is the conclusion of the study. For a complete copy of the report, contact R. Bruce Donald, President of the Farmington Valley Trails Council: president@fvgreenway.org.


Comparing and contrasting other studies to the results of the Trail Utilization Study Analysis of the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, Simsbury, Connecticut provided an opportunity to verify the economic impacts on the regional economy. In a full cycle of seasons covering a year, the trail attracted 110,000 visits and generated conservatively four to almost seven million dollars in revenues for Simsbury and the Farmington Valley of Connecticut. Additionally, it is a proven fact that home values rise and sales quicken when adjacent to a bike trail.

However, there is much more than just economic value in the trail system that encompasses the FCHT, (which is part of the East Coast Greenway) and the Farmington River Trail. There is the obvious health and recreational benefit. There is a very real boost to the towns involved which are able to provide such an amenity. Local residents are proud of their trail system, not only for themselves and their health, but as an advertising feature for the tourism industry of the area. The Farmington Valley Region is full of history, culture, and scenery. This group of both suburban and more rural communities has always been an attractive tourist attraction for people from all over the country to visit. The multi-use trail system however, is proving to be a huge draw. These linear greenways built on unused railroad corridors now play an important role in connecting communities. They certainly enable users to access the area on foot or bike and explore the scenic and historic landmarks. But perhaps more importantly they allow commutation to and from work, and the ability to undertake short trips in safety for the user and the environment. The trail system within the Farmington Valley can truly now be called a proven resource that enhances the region in many positive ways.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

New Internet Tool for Executive Pay Comparisons

Last week, the Securities & Exchange Commission launched its first-ever on-line tool that enables investors to compare what the top executives of the 500 largest American companies get paid. The Executive Compensation Reader builds on the SEC's new requirements that went into affect this year to enhance clarity and completeness of executive compensation disclosure.


Friday, December 21, 2007

A new study recently released by John Logan, a lecturer at the London School of Economics, points out that the intensity of employer opposition and government hostility to collective bargaining in the United States is unique among developed nations.

This “repressive character of U.S. labor law, which allows free rein to anti-union employers,” not only hurts workers in the United States and in other nations, Logan said today.

There is growing evidence that consultants, employer groups and multinational corporations are exporting U.S.-originated anti-union strategies to other developed countries such as the United Kingdom and Ireland and to transforming countries such as China.

Strengthening the right to organize and bargain collectively through the Employee Free Choice Act would benefit not only American workers, but also workers in other nations.

Logan’s report,
Unions Facing Hard Times: The Global Crisis in Union Collective Bargaining, shows that Sweden has the highest rate of union membership with 80 percent, while the United States trails at the bottom with 12 percent. Click here to download a copy of the report (PDF).

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Hartford Courant
December 13, 2007

Airport Congestion Creates Opening

Connecticut has a great opportunity to take advantage of air-traffic congestion problems around New York and New Jersey airports — if we act boldly by expanding air service from Bradley International Airport and build a rail link to the airport from the Springfield-to-New Haven line.

There is simply too much air traffic for JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports to handle. All suffer from chronic flight delays. Instead of trying to increase the number of flights at these busy airports, the effort should be to reduce the demand. One way would be to increase air service from Bradley.

Now that Bradley has international service, we should try to grow the business and attract more travelers from New York and New Jersey. We can do this most effectively by running a rail line to Bradley and start running trains from Manhattan to Bradley. Not only would this make it convenient for New York and New Jersey airline passengers to get to Bradley, we would make the region more attractive to the business community by providing a one-seat, less-than-two-hour train ride from Bradley/Hartford to New York City.

David McCluskey State Representative D-West Hartford
The writer is co-chairman of the General Assembly's transportation bonding subcommittee.

Friday, August 10, 2007

CT should lead & create a NY/NY/New England Commuter & Freight Rail Authority

I commend Governor Rell for exploring the opportunity of running commuter rail service into Penn Station, NYC. Our main challenge is getting cooperation from AMTRAK, which operates Penn Station and owns the Hells Gate Rail Line from the New Haven Line into Penn.

The advantages of having such service are many. It would allow CT commuters easier access to the west side of Manhattan which is targeted for significant growth. More significantly, we could use existing rail cars/locomotives such as those which run on the New Jersey Transit Line - instead of our unique M-8/current New Haven Line rail cars which are the only ones in the world I believe which run on both overhead AC line and third rail DC line. If we could get AMTRAK approval, we could start such a service faster than we will get the new M-8 rail cars from Kawasaki. We should work with our Federal Delegation to aggressively pursue this Penn Station option.

But we need to think even bigger and bolder - a NJ/NY/New England Commuter & Freight Rail Authority to coordinate and accelerate rail development in the region. NJ Transit, the MTA and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority are expanding their rail systems. New Hampshire has just established a Rail Transit Authority to reestablish passenger service to Boston. Connecticut is in the middle of most of this activity and we should move aggressively to connect the dots. Just as the MTA is working on a rail connection to the Stewart International Airport in Orange County - 1 seat, 75 minute trip from Penn Station, we need to get Hartford and its airport, Bradley connected to the rest of this growing rail service NOW. The best way to revitalize Hartford is to connect it to our nation's economic capital - NYC - with a one seat ride in less than 2 hours.

Again, this is not easy since AMTRAK once again owns the rail line from Springfield to New Haven. The line is mostly single track, old, not-electrified and has too many at-grade rail crossings. But CT could take the lead and buy/lease double-decker passenger cars from New Jersey Transit or from one of the manufacturers. Within the next several years, diesel/overhead electric locomotives will be available which will allow a one seat ride from Hartford/Bradley Airport to Penn Station.

Now that Governor Rell has asked Pitney Bowes Chair/CEO Michael Critelli to head a DOT Reorganization Taskforce, CT must step up its efforts to get out of our economic cul de sac by working with our surrounding states in reestablishing our commuter and freight rail service.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Legislature needs to establish a uniform investigatory process

Having served on at least three investigatory inquiries (the CRRA and the Lisa Moody ones in the Government Administration and Elections Committee and the I-84 DOT Construction one in the Transportation Committee), I believe that the General Assembly MUST develop a format to properly do investigations. In most circumstances, this format should be as bi-partisan as possible.

I believe whenever an Executive Branch investigation is authorized, usually by the Chairs of the Committee of cognizance, that a formalized process should kick in. Partisan and non-partisan staff should be specifically assigned to work on the inquiry. The Program Review and Investigations Committee (PRI)'s staff and expertise should be utilized as well as that of the Office of Legislative Research and the State Auditors. Often times, PRI and the Auditors have already done basic reviews of the state agency in question that would help with the inquiry.

Too often the legislators in such investigatory hearing lack the specific knowledge of the agency, how it works and what the normal business practices are in that field (e.g. how transportation construction contracting works). As a result, value time is lost with bringing legislators up-to-speed in the middle of the investigation. The Legislature is supposed to be a check on the Executive Branch, but right now our ability to conduct oversight and investigations is too limited and unfocused.

It MIGHT be the case that the Legislature should revise the mission of the Program Review and Investigations Committee so that its regular agency/program studies are driven by the Leadership of the 4 legislative caucuses. We MAY wish to better coordinate PRI's work with that of the State Auditors and the new Appropriations Subcommittee on Results-Based Budgeting so that each can support and learn from the others efforts.

The Public should have confidence that the Legislature can and will effectively investigate allegations of wrong-doing in the Executive Branch agencies. The General Assembly must restructure and standardize its inquiry process so that this important check in the constitutional framework can be accomplished.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Need for a new Progressive Coalition

When I first became involved in progressive/Democratic politics in the 1980s, there was a vibrant coalition of progressive organizations called LEAP - Legislative Electoral Action Program.

It began, I recall, as a reaction to the election of Ronald Reagan as President and the ascendancy of the conservative movement. For a mulititude of reasons, LEAP is no longer with us. As a result, it is much more difficult to move a progressive agenda both in elections and in the General Assembly. There are very real legal and other limitations for 501Cs like the Universal Health Care Foundation or One Connecticut to build the kind of grass roots activism statewide needed to pass difficult, broadsweeping legislation like Health Care for All.

Many of the leaders of LEAP are no longer in charge of their respective organizations - we lost Gerry Springer from the AFT CT, Jerry Brown & Merilee Milstein are no longer in charge of 1199, Phil Wheeler retired from UAW and Steve Perruccio just left CEUI. We need to think of rebuilding the progressive coalition. It may not end up being a formal organization like LEAP. Our culture, workforce, politics and technology have continued to change/evolve. We need to tap into the energy of the internet/bloggers, we need to involve the Lamont campaign volunteers.


Greetings from former CT State Representative David McCluskey (Democrat-West Hartford). I am now Vice Chair of the West Hartford Democrats. I am a long-time Vice President of the Greater Hartford Labor Council.

At the end of 2010, I completed my 6th and last term from the 20th District which is in the southern section of the town including Elmwood. I served on a number of committees including: Environment, Finance, Human Services, Planning & Development, Public Health and the Transportation Committees. I was also co-chair of the Transportation Bonding Subcommittee, which has worked to rebuild our public transportation system,focus on "fix it first" not new highways, roads and encourage bike and pedestrian travel, and coordinate land use/economic development/transportation development.

I am a progressive, pro-labor Democrat and thought I would use this blog to pass along news and views.

I will try to keep the site fresh with news/information and try to offer more commentary/observations on CT Politics &Government.