HARTFORD — The General Assembly voted unanimously March 28 to adopt a so-called circuit-breaker measure that would freeze state fuel taxes for the next 15 months, affording at least temporary relief to consumers who pay the nation's highest gasoline taxes.

But majority Democrats in both chambers also rejected Republican amendments to cancel a gas tax hike slated to take effect in July 2013. While the circuit-breaker will pare roughly 1.4 cents off the state's fuel tax burden, the next tax increase would add nearly four cents per gallon.

The measure next heads to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who was expected to sign it.

 WATERBURY — Webster Bank has launched a full-service private bank that will work with individuals, businesses or non-profits with $1 million or greater in investible assets, the bank announced March 8. Webster private bankers will operate in seven regional teams throughout the four-state footprint that now stretches from Westchester County, N.Y. through Connecticut and to Rhode Island and Boston.

"The principles that guided my father when he founded the bank are still with us," said James C. Smith, chairman and CEO of Webster Bank. "At Webster, we respect the confidence our customers place in us. We strive to fulfill our responsibility to do right by them. We say its part of our DNA or our 'Type W Personality.' Webster Private Bank will up that a notch, providing comprehensive solutions and resources from a local team who you know and trust."

Products and services to be offered include customized credit products such as specialized credit card, mortgages and collateralized loans; premium banking services including checking with no access fees for ATMs anywhere and money market accounts with preferred rates; trust and estate services such transfer planning, conservatorship, securities custody and special asset management; philanthropic and financial planning services.

Webster Bank is a subsidiary of Waterbury-based Webster Financial Corp., which operates 171 branches and 485 ATMs in Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. It has approximately $19 billion in assets.

Survey charts uptick in business optimism

 

HARTFORD — Connecticut's economy is showing some signs of improvement, but issues at the international and national levels remain concerns, according to a new statewide survey of companies.

The Connecticut Business & Industry Association's fourth quarter 2011 economic survey found that businesses were more optimistic in the fourth quarter than they were in the previous three-month period.

Among CBIA’s key performance indicators:

• 47 percent of respondents expected increased production and sales for the next quarter, up from 35 percent in the third quarter;

• 46 percent of respondents said they anticipated future gains in productivity and wages;

• 23 percent expected to add workers compared to the 13 percent who said they expected to pare their workforce over the next quarter. That compares favorable to Q3, when only 16 percent said they expected to add positions and 22 percent expected to cut jobs.

"The fourth quarter survey was a welcome change to the results of our third quarter report," says CBIA economist Peter Gioia. "While too early to determine a trend, the survey shows optimism for growth on par with a steady economic recovery."

The survey also saw executives expecting more growth nationally first, then locally. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said they expected the U.S. economy to improve, while 19 percent expected further worsening. Although still better than last quarter, expectations at the state level are weaker. Twenty-three percent of respondents see the state economy improving while 34 percent expect continued deterioration.

"While this survey shows business leaders are beginning to gain confidence, there are challenges to be met going forward,” Gioia says. “That's why it's important for our policymakers to continue to lean the cost of state government, reform public education, reduce and address barriers to economic growth, and modernize state infrastructure.”

 

Conducted by the state’s largest business organization, CBIA's fourth quarter 2011 economic survey was emailed to 1,950 Connecticut businesses in early January. A total of 216 executives responded, an 11-percent response rate that yielded a margin of error of plus or minus 6.8 percent.

 

Bridgeport bank to acquire 56 Citizens branches in metro area

 

BRIDGEPORT — People’s United Bank will expand its footprint in metropolitan New York following completion of its all-cash, $3.25 million acquisition of 56 Citizens Financial Group branches in and around New York City.

 

Fifty-two of those branches are in Stop & Shop supermarkets, while four are “traditional” bank branches.

 

The agreement with Rhode Island-based Citizens Financial also calls for People’s United to assume $325 million in deposits associated with the branches in the deal.

 

All of the branches are located in New York, including 29 on Long Island, eight in Westchester County and six in New York City proper.

 

The deal will more than double the number of People’s United branches in the Empire State. The Bridgeport-based bank currently has 37 branches in New York, the majority of which were acquired when People’s United acquitted the Long Island-based Bank of Smithtown in 2010.

 

“We see a clear and immediate opportunity to increase the deposits in the acquired branches, providing additional funding for our strong franchise-wide loan growth,” said People’s United Chief Executive Officer John P. Barnes in a statement.

 

People’s United was among the first banks nationwide to develop branch networks in supermarkets, opening its first Stop & Shop branches nearly two decades ago. Today the bank operates 87 Stop & Shop branch locations in Connecticut, and their in-store average deposit range of $30 million to $35 million far outpaces the industry average.

 

"This acquisition leverages the excellent in-store banking track record of People's United to deepen our presence and introduce the convenience of our in-store banking to customers on Long Island and in Westchester County," Barnes said. "It is a unique opportunity to be the exclusive provider of banking services at 139 Stop & Shop stores across Long Island, southern New York state and Connecticut."

 

Citizens Financial is owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC, which was bailed out by the British government in 2008.

HARTFORD — The cost of delivering state and local public services in Connecticut has grown at a pace 405 percent faster than median personal income in Connecticut over the past 12 years. State and local expenditures have grown 59 percent faster than gross state product. This trajectory has made Connecticut the eighth highest spending state in the country on a per capita basis.

 

Those numbers come from the Connecticut Institute for the 21st Century, which on March 6 is scheduled to brief state lawmakers on the need to control the skyrocketing costs of delivering state and local public services. The event is scheduled to take place at 11 a.m. in the Old Judiciary Room at the State Capitol.

The Institute is chaired by James Torgerson, better known in these parts as chairman and president of UIL Holdings, parent company of United Illuminating. Torgerson is scheduled to speak at the event.