Returning for Special Session

June 20, 2012

Last week, the General Assembly reconvened for a one-day special session originally designed to implement the state’s budget that was passed at the end of the regular session in May. Unfortunately, this was also another opportunity for legislators to bring up some old business and attach it onto new legislation. Each bill was filled with dozens of other proposals that failed to gain support only a little more than a month ago. Since these bills did not receive a public hearing, I wanted to share some of my concerns with you.

Believe it or not, these two bills totaled over 600 pages and were dropped on our desks only a couple of hours before the session would begin. It was certainly a tall task to review the language in all of these pages for one long night of debating and voting. Both were introduced by emergency certification, meaning that there would be no chance for the public to weigh in. This is a legislative term describing “a procedure by which the speaker and president pro tempore jointly propose a bill and send it directly to the House or Senate, floor for action without any committee referrals or public hearings.”

In fact, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Commissioner’s Office, there were 111 different concepts in the larger bill alone, 40 of which have never received a public hearing. The two bills under consideration were House Bill 6001, “An Act Implementing Provisions Of The State Budget For The Fiscal Year Beginning July 1, 2012,” weighing in at 468 pages and Senate Bill 501, “An Act Implementing Certain Provisions Concerning Government Administration,” weighing in at a smaller yet still daunting 190 pages.

The legislation included much more than simple budget implementation. Additional subjects included eliminating minimum trooper staffing levels, creating new departments, merging agencies, detailing education initiatives and many other issues. Among them, I would like to highlight two specific provisions, including forgotten promises and further spending for failing school districts.

First, this bill included several fee and tax increases. In 2011, after the largest tax increase in state history was passed, Governor Malloy promised no future tax increases. However, this legislation raised licensing fees and taxes on the roll-your-own tobacco shops. It is projected to increase revenue by $3.1 million annually. After the state lost a series of court cases on this matter, the legislature decided to simply change the law. This issue has certainly gained much attention in recent weeks.

Second, it increased education spending for Bridgeport. Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor will now be able to loan $3.5 million to the city in return for the state’s ability to choose its superintendent. This potentially forgivable loan comes in addition to the over $168 million in state funding that was already appropriated for the Bridgeport school district during the next fiscal year. While we must fix failing school districts, we cannot continue to simply throw money at the problem and expect it to be solved.

At the end of the day, both bills passed in the Senate along partisan lines. While I cannot say that I was surprised at the process, it is clear that we need greater balance in Hartford. I believe it is wrong to tack dozens of other issues onto a budget implementer bill without giving members of the public an opportunity to review and share their input. If you would like to learn more about these massive pieces of legislation, please visit the Connecticut General Assembly website at and search for H.B. 6001 and S.B. 501.