Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Roll Another One

Maybe Gov. Rell, in her budget address, should have proposed splitting the DOT into three parts instead of two, with the third devoted to truck rollovers. The chaotic mess on I-84 just west of Waterbury this morning was a perfect illustration of why our rails should be used to move more freight, most notably hazardous materials that now mix it up with family vans and hot-headed speeders. The rails aren't completely safe, of course, but the roads have become brutal. For things to change in any meaningful way, someone in Hartford has to want it to happen--and I don't see that sense of urgency right now. Certainly, the DOT isn't going to step up on its own, even with a new commissioner. The governor's office doesn't seem very interested in creating a legacy of greatness or change. Their specialty seems to be quietly sidestepping controversy and not slipping in the polls. But this is an issue that effects the economy and public safety, and you can almost see it getting worse and more dangerous every day. Which one of our "leaders" will take the lead on this?

Friday, February 8, 2008

State Salary Charade

If Connecticut were really interested in any sort of fiscal restraint (as all the pols were professing at the Capitol the other day), it might start with the salaries of its appointed commissioners and others at the top of the fiscal food chain. But it's not. I sampled a few commissioner's salaries to see how they've risen over the past ten years in relation to inflation. For example, the commissioner of motor vehicle's salary ten years ago was $83,500. If it rose in line with inflation, it should be $107,400 today, but it's actually $128,000. The commissioner of public safety's salary ten years ago was $95,000 and should be $122,200 to stay even with inflation. But instead it rose to $140,000. I could go on, but take my word for it that in every single case, the commissioner's salary has far outrun inflation. This isn't to say that some, even many, commissioners earn what they get. But can the state really play the salary (and pension, and benefit) game like this and still profess to be on the side of fiscal restraint? Finally, it isn't hard to imagine that the rank-and-file state workers have also made out exceptionally well over the past ten years. If they hadn't, they'd never allow their "bosses" to get away with it.

Is More Access A Good Idea?

So a very quiet news items recently was the Connecticut Judicial Department making its database of criminal records (since 2000) now available online. It includes convictions for crimes -- including motor vehicle infractions -- with the idea of more transparency for the department and better access to the information.

All the information is already public record, so really what has changed is being able to search it from the comfort of your computer rather than having to trek down to state offices. It also has a very convenient-to-search interface.

I just caution you before you click that going to this site is like trying crack -- after I was done typing in my name (I'm clean!) as well as my friends, co-workers and neighbors, I started trolling for old high school friends, college buddies, former acquaintances and even past girlfriends. Very highly addictive. . . .

And I wonder, if not a bit too invasive also. Yes, all the data is already available to all, but are we losing a level of privacy by having it so easily accessible? I know there's also harassment laws and employment considerations -- and even though there are bold disclaimers on how the information is to be used, I'm not naive enough to think someone out there won't use it in less than the spirit in which making it accessible was intended.

Obviously, there's already a state sex offender registry (which I don't think most would argue with), and most local newspapers already have some sort of police blotter roundup -- I guess my question is do we really need to have access to every single traffic ticket conviction? Is all access too much access? Where is the line between needing to know for safety's sake and invading privacy?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

For Whom the Polls Toll

Super Tuesday is upon Connecticut and voter turnout is expected to heavy today as for the first time in recent memory the state's primaries are positioned in a point on the calendar to matter. Even though there are only 27 Republican delegates and 48 Democratic ones -- not make or break numbers -- the state enjoyed visits from the candidates over the past few days: John McCain stopped in at Sacred Heart University on Sunday, Hillary Clinton returned to her stomping grounds at Yale yesterday afternoon and the XL Center in Hartford warmly welcomed Barack Obama.

After years of seemingly being late to the party, it's nice to feel like an active (and relevant) part of the nomination process. And with the Democratic contest appearing to be neck and neck, there's a great sense of enthusiasm associated with the primaries, a breath of fresh air in regards to the state's role in the national political scene.

Here's hoping the interest and enthusiasm continues right through November.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Clinton Jumps Ugly

"Mayor Michael J. Jarjura was just about to attend an endorsement event with former Rep. James Maloney on the Green at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. But at 1:20 p.m. Director of Operations Joseph Geary received a call canceling Jarjura's invitation."
The event was for Hillary Clinton. It was evidently the Clinton campaign that rescinded Jarjura's invitation because Jarjura had recently hired former Gov. John Rowland to a local economic-development position in Waterbury. Regardless of how you feel about Rowland, the Clinton move strikes me as petty, vindictive and unnecessary, but probably indicative of how a Clinton presidency would operate. It's just the sort of "politics first" way of thinking that Barack Obama seems to have little talent for. It's only a small part of the picture to consider when picking a president, or a nominee, of course, but I think it creates a mood that in a Clinton presidency would extend out into Congress, the bureaucracy and even foreign policy. Haven't we had enough of that with the current administration?