Friday, February 11, 2011

Rep. Taborsak visits PS 104

Longtime adjunct Scott Benjamin regularly invites guest speakers to visit his PS 104: World Governments, Economics and Cultures courses.  Rep. Joe Taborsak (D-109th) talked with Prof. Benjamin's PS 104 course on Feb. 7.  Here's what Rep. Taborsak had to say about key issues facing Connecticut:  

Taborsak on the Issues

By Scott Benjamin

State Rep. Joe Taborsak (D-109th) of Danbury said Connecticut can add job by improving its sea ports and establishing high speed rail service as it tries to overcome an official unemployment rate of 9 percent, a figure that he insists is misleading.
He told students in a section of PS 104: World Governments, Economies and Cultures on Monday, Feb. 7, 2011 at Western Connecticut State University (WCSU) in Danbury that Connecticut’s ports are “very underdeveloped” and people would be “shocked” after making a comparison to the more impressive port infrastructure in New Jersey.
Mr. Taborsak said the ports in Connecticut should be upgraded so the state could “do more” to develop “trade centers.”
He said if he took a train in the morning to Hartford for his commute to the State Capitol, the train he would need to make the return trip would have already left.
“We haven’t invested in rail,” said Mr. Taborsak, whose mother, Lynn Taborsak, a graduate of WCSU, once held the very same seat in the state House.
However, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in 2010, has said he is not a proponent of rail expansion because there isn’t much pay back for the huge investments that have to be made.
In 2010, then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell (R-Brookfield) and then-U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-East Haddam) announced that federal funding was being provided for a high-speed rail initiative from Springfield, Mass., to southern Connecticut.
Mr. Taborsak said that Connecticut’s 9 percent unemployment figure is misleading because it doesn’t include people who are underemployed or who have stopped seeking to find a job during what has been a slow recovery from a recession that is considered the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930’s.
“The more you analyze it, the more you start to question what it means,” he said.
“You can have somebody who was an engineer making $80,000 a year, loses his job, and is working at Wal-Mart for $15,000 a year,” Mr. Taborsak said.
“Some studies show that between all of the factors, Connecticut has 15 to 20 percent of its work force that is either unemployed, underemployed or not searching for work,” the state representative said.
Gov. Dannel Malloy (D-Stamford) said while campaigning in 2010 that Connecticut and Michigan are the only states with fewer workers than they had in 1989.
Speaking nine days before Mr. Malloy delivered his budget address to the General Assembly, Mr. Taborsak said the state has “five legs” to its fiscal stool as it tries to offset a budget deficit that the Office of Fiscal Analysis, the General Assembly’s budget-making arm, has projected at $3.67 billion for the fiscal year that starts in July, 2011.
He said the state lost considerable revenue during the financial services crisis of 2008, since part of its economy is “heavily tied” to Wall Street.
Stamford reportedly ranks fourth in the world in financial services.
Mr. Taborsak said those legs consist of revenue, spending reductions, borrowing, employee concessions and federal stimulus money.
Those stimulus funds, however, which were approved in February 2009, are about to expire.
Mr. Taborsak said he believes that reductions can be made in the administrative structure of state universities, such as WCSU, without having much impact on teachers and students.
Two days after Mr. Taborsak’s talk, Mr. Malloy proposed merging the central offices of the Connecticut State University – which includes WCSU, Central in New Britain, Southern in New Haven and Eastern in Willimantic – to save money.
Mr. Taborsak, a graduate of Northeastern, which has one of the model Cooperative Education programs in the country, said he hopes Connecticut’s public colleges and universities start to offer more apprenticeship programs.
WCSU has had a Cooperative Education program since the late 1970’s, which currently provides students with the opportunity to earn up to 18 credits through work-study programs.
Despite the slow economic recovery, Mr. Taborsak said the state should consider providing funds to help school districts provide all-day kindergarten.
The legislator said that step would increase achievement for students of all abilities.
New Milford, for example, has included it in its proposed education budget for the next fiscal year after a pilot program was successful at the John Pettibone School in that district.
Mr. Taborsak said that the federal No Child Left Behind legislation that then-President George W.Bush signed in 2002 has required too much standardized testing.
“I haven’t taken a standardized test since law school,” said Mr. Taborsak, 35, who has a bachelor’s degree from Northeastern University in Massachusetts and a law degree from Pace University in New York state.
He said the standardized exam in the state, the Connecticut Mastery Test should be administered every other year, instead of every year as it now is between third and eighth grade.
It had previously been given only in fourth, sixth and eighth grade.
“You should give teachers more flexibility in the classroom to teach,” Mr. Taborsak said.
However, some assistant superintendent of schools in Connecticut have said they are pleased that the tests are given each year since it provides more data on the students.
Since the inception of the standardized tests a generation ago, following the established of Connecticut’s Education Enhancement Act under then-Gov. William O’Neill (D-East Hampton), educators have praised the tests for largely measuring higher-order thinking skills.
During his gubernatorial campaign, Mr. Malloy said Connecticut has been hobbled by the second highest electricity rates in the country, behind Hawaii.
Mr. Taborsak said because the state is small geographically, it is difficult to generate hydro-power.
He said Connecticut will likely add many jobs in green technologies, noting that Fuel Cell Energy in Danbury is one of the leading manufacturers of that technology.
Mrs. Rell and U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Stamford) have said that 25 years from now there will be more people employed in fuel-cell technology than any other part of the states’ economy.
Mr. Taborsak said nuclear energy is cleaner than the fossil fuels, but the technology “remains controversial” because of the potential safety issues.
“Nobody wants it in their back yard,” he said.
Mr. Taborsak said the energy reform package that both chambers of the General Assembly approved last spring, shortly before adjournment, will likely resurface this session.
Mrs. Rell vetoed that legislation, indicating that it would increase costs on consumers.
Mr. Taborsak said it provides incentives for clean energy sources and would over the long run generate more sales of those technologies, which would save money for consumers.
Prof. Benjamin will next host Steve Arlinghaus, a former official with the U.S. Commerce Dept., in his PS 104 course on Feb. 28 from 5:25-6:25 p.m. in White Hall 214.  Arlinghaus will discuss the European Union.  All are invited to attend.  For more information, contact Prof. Scott Benjamin at