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Connecticut’s Keno sales are up $6 million in its first month of state-wide availability. While the state projected about $17million in the first six months of sales, the first month surpassed expectations. The controversial lottery game is much more widely available than other forms of gambling, with screens set up in various stores, bars and restaurants around the state. Keno winning numbers are projected every four minutes, unlike a traditional lottery in which winning numbers sequences are typically announced a few times a week.
IRS: FUTA to rise to 2.3 percent
EAST HARTFORD — OEM America President David Fernandez is criticizing a newly announced tax that makes Connecticut the most expensive in the country.
Fernandez’s East Hartford-based company provides payroll, human resources, workers compensation and health insurance services to small businesses throughout the state.
The Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) reimbursement rates for this 2014, just announced by the IRS, charges employers 2.3 percent on employee payrolls. Most states charge 0.6 percent. The next highest states are Indiana at 2.1 and California at 1.8 percent.
Fernandez observes that some Connecticut small businesses were unprepared for this tax increase. “Lots of businesses that use ADP or Paychex for payroll haven’t been withholding enough this year,” he says. “Those companies are going to have to write a pretty big check next month.”
OEM’s payroll clients are somewhat insulated from this action, since the company has been anticipating this higher rate, and has been withholding accordingly, Fernandez adds. They will still have to pay the higher rates, but will not have the pay all at once.
“We see this kind of business-unfriendly attitudes throughout our business,” Fernandez says. “Fees tacked on to workers compensation, fees added to health insurance — the small businesses we work for feel like they’re a government piggy bank. Our products help them some, but there’s always another agency with its hand out.”
Fernandez urges Connecticut’s leaders to repay the federal unemployment fund, so that the state’s FUTA rates will come back down to normal.
WESTBROOK — State Sen. Art Linares has created an online petition at senatorlinares.com where area residents can sound off about electric rate hikes and urge state regulators to oppose future hikes.
“Many people have asked me what they can do to help me to fight rate hikes,” said Linares in a statement. “One way is to take our message to the decision-makers. The signatures on this petition will be delivered to state electricity regulators soon. The message we are sending is clear: We cannot afford higher electricity rates.”
On September 3 Linares joined with area residents at New London City Hall to voice his opposition to the proposed Connecticut Light & Power rate hike. Linares addressed state regulators during a packed public hearing on the proposal.
“I have received many calls and emails on the issue of the rate hike. All of the calls and emails have been from people who are opposed to the rate hike. This rate hike could cost the average ratepayer an extra $150 a year. A senior citizen from Clinton told me there is no way he and his wife can afford to pay an extra $150 a year. There are many, many more people who are in the same situation. Please consider them when you make your decision. Reject this request for a rate hike. There is no way that our seniors, our working families, and our most vulnerable citizens can afford $150 more a year.”
Company acknowledges improper billing; will pay $105M
Connecticut will receive just more than $268,200 as part of a broader $105 million global settlement reached with telecommunications giant AT&T Mobility, LLC.
The settlement, announced earlier this month by state Attorney General George Jepsen and state Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner William Rubenstein, resolves claims that AT&T Mobility engaged in “data cramming,” or tacking charges onto customers’ bills without their permission or knowledge.
Connecticut, the 49 other states and the District of Columbia are all part of the settlement with AT&T Mobility. In all, the company agreed to pay $105 million to pay participating states as well as provide refunds to affected customers, state officials said.
The states, along with the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communication Commission, claim that AT&T billed consumers for premium text-message subscription services when they had not signed up for or agreed to them. The charges typically were $9.99 a month, according to Jepsen’s office, and often were for services provided by a third party, such as daily horoscopes, trivia and sports updates.
The $105 million settlement includes $20 million in payments to the states, of which Connecticut is getting $268,252. The company also agreed to make an $80 million payment to the Federal Trade Commission to fund a claims-based restitution program the FTC will administer, and will pay $5 million to the U.S. Treasury on behalf of the Federal Communications Commission.
Under the agreement, AT&T will notify all affected consumers who were charged for premium text-message subscriptions to let them know how they can seek refunds.
Consumers who think they have been billed incorrectly because of data cramming can submit claims online at ftc.gov/att. The claims process will be open until May 1, 2015, Jepsen said.
As part of the settlement, AT&T is required to bill for third-party charges only if the charges have been authorized by customers, as well as to improve the way such charges are shown on customer’s cell phone bills.
Largest funds outpace projections
HARTFORD — Positive investment returns for the state’s two biggest pension funds constituted “great news” for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who credited the fiscal-year development to state actions and the investment plan of state Treasurer Denise Nappier.
Over the 2013-14 fiscal year ending June 30, the Teacher’s Retirement Fund (TERF) posted a net investment return of 15.67 percent. That exceeded actuarial projections of 8.5 percent, and represents more than the “customized benchmark” of 15.25 percent, according to Nappier’s office.
During the same period, the State Employees’ Retirement Fund (SERF) marked a net investment return of 15.62 percent. The actuarial projection for this fund was 8.0 percent, and the customized benchmark is 15.41 percent.
The sum of investment gains was $3.8 billion.
“This is great news and I want to commend Treasurer Nappier for her good work,” said Malloy in a statement. “Over the past three and a half years, we have cut the state’s long-term obligations nearly $12 billion by reducing post-employment costs and increasing the state’s contributions to the pension fund. Our actions, together with the Treasurer’s investment strategy, have us on the path to get our long-term obligations under control.”
The two funds represent 91 percent of the state’s pension and trust fund portfolio.
Nappier noted that earnings for both funds have been in the double digits for four years of the last five. As of fiscal year end, the market value for TERF was $16.2 billion. For SERF, it was $10.5 billion.
As for the performance of TERF and SERF for the most recent fiscal period, “We are rightly proud of it,” according to Nappier. “The soundness of our strategic, diversified approach to portfolio design has enabled us to achieve returns that approach double their actuarially assumed rates of return.”
Overall, Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Funds increased in investment gains by $4.15 billion for the 2014 fiscal year. After factoring in net withdrawals, the net increase over the previous year was $3.5 billion.
“What is noteworthy about our investment experience over the past five years,” said Nappier, “is that pension fund assets have grown at a faster pace than the payment of benefits and other expenses. In light of the state’s significant unfunded pension liability, the substantial growth of the fund assets is good news for its beneficiaries and taxpayers. Our overall pension fund portfolio is positioned to perform well in a variety of economic environments.”
In addition to TERF and SERF, the remaining nine percent of CRPTF consists of assets held on behalf of the following: Connecticut Municipal Employees’ Retirement Fund; Probate Court Retirement Fund; State Judges’ Retirement Fund; State’s Attorneys’ Retirement Fund; Soldiers’ Sailors’ & Marines’ Fund; Endowment for the Arts; Agricultural college Fund; Ida Eaton Cotton Fund; Andrew Clark Fund; School Fund; Hopemead Fund; Police & Fireman’s Survivors’ Benefit Fund; and State of Connecticut Other Post-Employment Benefits Trust Fund.
NAUGATUCK — Workers for a Valley contractor performing abrasive blasting during the renovation of a Massachusetts mill were overexposed to lead and silica and faced other health hazards due to their employer's failure to supply legally required safeguards. As a result, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Maher Industries, doing business as A Fast Blast, for 17 serious violations of workplace health standards.
OSHA found that employees were exposed to airborne concentrations of lead and silica generated by the abrasive blasting, which was in excess of permissible exposure limits. Feasible engineering or administrative controls to reduce the exposure levels were not in place or in use. The lead exposure hazard was compounded by the lack of a shower facility and protective clothing and eye protection for exposed workers. The company failed to monitor lead exposure levels and allowed employees to consume beverages adjacent to abrasive blasting.
A Fast Blast had 15 business days from receipt of its citations and proposed penalties to comply, meet with OSHA's area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
New Haven Magazine