Running Our State Without A Budget

August 18, 2009

As Governor M. Jodi Rell continues to run state government by executive order, it might help to keep things in perspective by remembering that this is not the first time in recent history that Connecticut has been without a budget.

Undoubtedly, many people remember the summer of 1991 – the year of the income tax – when Connecticut went without a state budget for more than fifty days as the General Assembly tried to pass a tax and spend plan that then Governor Lowell Weicker would sign into law. Then, as now, the Democrats controlled the majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. That year, the General Assembly passed several temporary appropriations measures to pay the bills for the first weeks of the new fiscal year. Also, Governor Weicker issued several executive orders to, first, allow state government to keep running while minimizing discretionary spending and, secondly, to authorize funding in cases where there was a gap between the expiration of one continuing spending resolution and the beginning of the next.

Connecticut was again without a state budget in 2003. That year, then Governor John Rowland vetoed the General Assembly’s continuing spending resolution and issued his own series of executive orders. At the time, Governor Rowland claimed that the General Assembly did not have the authority to pass its two-week resolution, which it did on June 30th, the day before the start of the new fiscal year. The Attorney General disagreed – but, while the Legislature had the authority to pass continuing resolutions, the Governor also had the authority to veto them and to issue his own executive orders. Again, the Democrats controlled the majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

According to an interesting report recently issued by the General Assembly’s nonpartisan Office of Legislative Research, there is nothing in either state law or the state constitution spelling out what to do to pay the bills and keep government running in the absence of a budget. When we found ourselves in this situation back in 1991, the state Attorney General based his opinion on how to proceed, in part, on an 1892 Connecticut Supreme Court decision. Not surprisingly, the bottom line is that the state has an obligation to pay necessary expenses – with or without a state budget.

Based on the opinion issued by the state Attorney General in 1991, the two legal ways to run government in the absence of a state budget is to for the legislature to pass continuing spending resolutions and, or, for the Governor to issue executive orders. As recent history has taught us, the Governor has the authority to veto a continuing resolution passed by the General Assembly. As with all gubernatorial vetoes, it would take a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly to reinstate a continuing spending resolution struck down by the Governor.

This year, Governor Rell has issued two executive orders to keep the state running while she and legislative leaders continue to meet behind closed doors to negotiate a budget agreement. It is my hope that such an agreement is reached soon, and that I have the opportunity to join my colleagues in the General Assembly in voting for a responsible state budget that Connecticut can afford.

As always, I welcome hearing from you. I can be reached at my legislative office in Hartford at 1-800-842-1421, or via e-mail to [email protected].