2018 Candidate Questionnaire
Pat Wilson Pheanious
Democrat – 53rd House District (Tolland, Willington, Ashford)
BACKGROUND: The Alliance represents community nonprofits across Connecticut that serve over 500,000 people, employ 198,000 and spend $29 billion annually in Connecticut’s economy. Nonprofits contribute to our state’s communities, economy and quality of life; they support the developmentally disabled, feed the hungry, provide behavioral health and substance abuse treatment, and help prisoners re-enter their communities. Nonprofits also enrich the state through art and culture — providing visual arts and performances and preserving our state’s historical landmarks.
QUESTION: What has been your experience with nonprofits in your community?
My direct experience with nonprofits in the community includes extensive interaction during former employment as a funder, participation in a variety of volunteer opportunities and membership on many non-profit Boards. Through these activities I have become increasingly aware of the human service needs faced by people of all ages in communities close to home and around the world. I have had the opportunity to see first hand how hard the staff and leadership of these nonprofit agencies work, the struggle to manage in an atmosphere of diminishing resources, and the critical contribution they make in people’s lives and in their community. My current Board membership includes: The Access Community Action Agency (Willimantic) focusing on moving people of limited income from fragile to thriving circumstances. Providing everything from food and job assistance to affordable housing, the agency works collaboratively with state and federal agencies, local banks, volunteers, elected officials and city managers to improve people’s lives on multiple levels. The Children’s Law Center (Hartford) helps children and their troubled families through the legal problems attendant to difficult divorces. Focusing on the most troubled situations and lowest income customers, they work with children, court systems and family mediators to help people end relationships and effectively parent their children through the aftermath. CREA (the Center for Reflection, Education and Action (Hartford) , facilitates analysis of social and economic policies from the perspective of their effects on human lives, starting with the lives of people who are poor. This non-profit agency promotes human rights and labor rights across the globe, engaging corporations in social responsibility and using a fair trade-peace trade model to help families earn living wages and build sustainable communities. Experience with these non profits demonstrates cost effective, community minded and right-thinking service models that have to compete for inadequate funding. All the nonprofits I know struggle to provide critically necessary services to the most vulnerable people. They survive (mostly through good will, good volunteers and good luck) in an environment of extremely complex, often inflexible state, federal, tax and business rules, in a difficult and unpredictable economic reality. These impressions will inform my legislative activity.
BACKGROUND: Community services for people in need are funded by state government through contracts, grants, and the Medicaid. At least half of the state budget comprises “fixed costs” that the state must pay – for example, post-employment obligations and bonded indebtedness. The “fixed” portion of the budget increases each year. Cuts in the portion of the budget that remains have caused significant reductions in funding for nonprofits and harm to the people they serve. When faced with cuts, nonprofits cannot raise taxes or prices, forcing them to cut services, lay-off employees or close programs. This is a model that cannot sustain itself – and it puts Connecticut’s quality of life at risk. The Alliance has argued that nonprofit services should be treated as if they are “fixed costs.”
QUESTION: If elected, how will you prioritize providing services to Connecticut’s most vulnerable residents? In the face of budget constraints, what changes will you fight for to ensure adequate funding for these services?
If elected I will prioritize services to Connecticut’s most vulnerable residents. I will encourage the use of strategies that emphasize family and community involvement, and focus on the value of prevention strategies as a first strike against predictable problems. I will promote legislation and discussion from the perspective of ensuring that the state and municipal governments can support the increasing basic human needs in Connecticut communities (e.g. affordable health and mental health care, education, housing, family/elder/disability support systems and good local jobs).
BACKGROUND: Nonprofits are exempt from paying taxes by state and federal law. Nonprofits do not pay federal and state corporate income taxes for their charitable activities, donations to nonprofits are tax deductible, and nonprofits are exempt from Connecticut’s sales tax and local property taxes. Recently, there have been efforts at all levels of government to weaken the tax-exempt status of nonprofits, most notably at the local level.
QUESTION: Do you support nonprofit tax exemptions? Why or why not? Would you support legislation to protect or clarify tax exemptions for nonprofits? Why or why not?
I support nonprofit tax exemptions and the need to protect these allowances for nonprofit organizations. I understand how little fat is in the budgets of the non profit agencies with whom I work regularly. They cannot afford unanticipated expenses, especially where existing law should protect their rights. I understand that the law specifies tax exemptions which are not always allowed or enforced. The reasons for dis-allowance may be complex, in the context of squeezed municipal budgets. If elected I will work to support existing laws that support non-profits and, author clarifications where necessary. I will work with state and federal regulatory and other funding sources to improve the funding conditions that stress non-profit budgets diminish their support from the State, cities and towns where they live.
BACKGROUND: Even though community nonprofits deliver more than 90% of residential services to people with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) and 60% of clients served by Local Mental Health Authorities in Connecticut, the State continues to operate some of these services itself, with state-operated facilities staffed by state employees. The State and nonprofits provide the same services, but nonprofits do so at half of the cost. For example, the average annual cost to serve an individual with I/DD living in a state-operated group home is $265,000. The cost for a community nonprofit to provide the same service is just $113,000. This means that government funding can serve more people if those services are provided by nonprofits.
QUESTION: If elected, would you support converting more state-operated services to the nonprofit sector? If not, how would you ensure that state funding is able to help more people?
If elected I will explore, within the context of the SEBAC agreement and other union contracts, how certain state services can be more effectively coordinated through the non profit sector. I am not in favor of wholesale privatization of general State services. In some instances that can be more costly and inefficient than training and managing state employees. But I also that there are more cost effective ways to provide some services now performed by certain classifications/locations and functional groups of state workers. Some child welfare, mental health and disability support functions could be considered, but their are issues of continuity of service and responsibility for outcomes that must be considered. It is important that movement be done through attrition and collaborative legislative/executive branch and labor/management planning. It is also important to consider the requirements of federal oversight and the existence of existing laws or binding legal mandates that may prohibit moving some services to the community. Still, given careful consideration of the ability to redeploy some state workers to new functions without disrupting their rights, I could support non-profit based models which create new opportunities for state/local collaboration and more cost effective human service delivery that move services closer to families in Connecticut.
The effort to ensure that the state funding is able to assist ever-increasing numbers of people must begin with the focus on prevention and early intervention. In education this means not cheating on pre-school, elementary and special education funds and dismantling unnecessary or counter-productive, unfunded mandates. In health mental health and substance abuse it could mean using telemedicine to deliver service to rural areas, using the best evidence based and cost effective methods to serve people of all cultures equally in all regions of the State. It means standing up to big Pharma, better educating doctors and prescribing medical professionals and incentivizing them to live in underserved areas, and creating transparency in prescription costs. We have to change the way we think about using existing resources to more effectively support people that need help in ever more creative and cost effective ways. We should also consider the cost saving in health insurance, improved access and cost avoidance for nonprofit employees (as well an increase in buying power for the state) if non profits assisting with state functions were included as part of the state health care contract.
BACKGROUND: The nonprofit arts and culture community enhances Connecticut’s quality of life. The arts make our communities better places to live and work – they create jobs, generate revenue, and are key considerations when families and businesses are thinking of locating in our state. A recent study found that Connecticut’s nonprofit arts and culture sector generates $797 million in annual economic activity for the state, supporting over 23,000 jobs and generating $72 million in local and state tax revenue.
QUESTION: How do your plans to grow Connecticut’s economy include our arts and cultural offerings?
As I work to help Connecticut’s economy grow I will reinforce the necessity of arts and cultural offerings in the definition of what a thriving community needs. Research shows that young working families will move to areas where their needs for diversity, art, music and culture thrive. They move away from places where those things don’t exist. We want to encourage young, working families and elders to remain, and keep spending in Connecticut. To do so we have to grow a skilled workforce, and keep them from moving their Connecticut-grown talents to communities in other States. Communities where people want to live and work include good schools, culturally-rich, diverse, environments where arts, music, good food, entertainment, and recreation thrive. Not only are there good jobs in art and culture-based industries, people spend money to access them. That money contributes to and stimulates further economic growth in the State.
The Connecticut Community Nonprofit Alliance (The Alliance) is Connecticut’s statewide association of community nonprofits. Our members deliver essential services to more than half a million people each year and employ almost 14% of Connecticut’s workforce. To inform nonprofit professionals, staff, clients and volunteers, The Alliance is asking candidates to complete this short five-question document. Completed will be published on our website, sent to our network of thousands of CT voters, and included at our Annual Conference.