Savings At Consumer Protection: One State Budget Bright Spot [Hartford Courant]

February 26, 2015

Article as it appeared in the Hartford Courant

HARTFORD — For more than 20 years, the annual license renewal for about 15,000 employees at Connecticut’s two casinos has been completed on paper.

That process has consumed huge amounts of time for the casinos and for state workers in the consumer protection department who currently spend up to 8 months processing the forms.

Now the state is finally eliminating paper renewals – saving time, energy and money.

As the state contemplates a new budget that contains many unpopular cuts, the Department of Consumer Protection is a bright spot — an agency that actually makes money by collecting more than $43 million in fees and spending only about $20 million per year.

The department’s new commissioner, Jonathan A. Harris, said Wednesday that all employees who are involved in gambling operations at the casinos, even those serving drinks on the floor, need to renew their state license annually.

Licensing has been a paper process since the Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun opened in the 1990s.

“Like a lot of things in the state government, it was a vestige of the past,” Harris said. He said switching to electronic license renewals “frees up staff time so we can meet other demands.”

Harris made a presentation Wednesday to the appropriations committee on the second of eight days of public hearings on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed two-year, $40 billion budget.

“With the new process, we expect that the streamlined renewal process will take less than two months,” Harris told the legislators. “In addition to the reduced timeframe, the changes will positively impact the casinos, which will no longer be required to use their staff time to print, distribute and complete renewal applications for 15,000 casino employees.”

During the portion of the hearing at which the state police made a presentation, some legislators expressed concern about Malloy’s plan to eliminate $1.4 million in funding for the fire training schools around the state.

Rep. Ben McGorty, a Republican, said he spent 35 years as a volunteer firefighter in his hometown of Shelton, a community of about 40,000 residents with 277 active firefighters. Those firefighters, he said, need training to fight fires.

“To eliminate this — I find it offensive,” McGorty said. “We get up at three in the morning for an accident on the highway. I find it offensive.”

Rep. Linda Orange, a Colchester Democrat, agreed at a later point in the hearing. “We’re going to want those fire schools back” in the budget, she said.

Legislators also expressed concern about Malloy’s plans to charge towns the full cost of the resident trooper program. Many small, rural towns do not have their own police forces and rely on resident troopers. Currently, the towns pay 70 percent of the costs.

Malloy is calling for the towns to pay an additional $9.2 million over two years to cover the full costs of the troopers.

“I’m a big supporter of the resident trooper program,” said Sen. Paul Formica, a Republican who is the former first selectman of East Lyme. “I hope we can find a way to keep that going.”