Sen. Kane on Gov. Malloy’s Power Grab Proposal: “Maybe He Still Thinks He Is Mayor.”

February 11, 2013

Article as it appeared in the Waterbury Republican-American


HARTFORD — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is seeking more power over state budgeting, including increasing his authority to unilaterally cut spending and reducing legislative oversight.

The proposals are part of the two-year budget plan that Malloy just proposed to lawmakers. Any changes will require the legislature’s approval.

The administration is representing the proposed changes as reforms that will enable the governor to budget and manage state finances more responsibly.

However, the governor’s office is not optimistic about their chances for passage.

“I don’t kid myself,” said Benjamin Barnes, Malloy’s budget director

Malloy is asking legislators to increase how much spending a governor can cut without legislative approval, including new authority to reduce municipal aid.

He is also proposing to give the administration more license to move money around in agency budgets.

Additionally, Malloy wants to recommend budgets for all three branches of government. He now only proposes the executive branch’s budget.

These proposals strike Sen. Robert Kane, R-Watertown, as an overreach on Malloy’s part. He is the ranking Republican senator on the Appropriations Committee.

“Maybe he still thinks he is mayor. I think that is still his mentality,” Kane said, referring to Malloy’s 14-year tenure as mayor of Stamford.

“I really don’t think what we are proposing is a broad usurpation of power,” Barnes said.

This is not the first time the governor has been accused of overstepping.

The first two years of his administration have shown that Malloy moves boldly. The governor’s proposals regarding his budget authority are yet another example.

These recommendations are not new. The Democratic governor unsuccessfully proposed the same changes in the first two-year budget plan that he recommended in 2011. His two Republican predecessors also sought such greater authority and autonomy for the governor’s office.

The administration is not expecting the legislature will embrace the renewed proposals this time.

Barnes doubts the measures will even get a public hearing. He said Malloy is renewing the recommendations because he believes the governor’s office needs the flexibility to respond to budget problems that may crop up during a fiscal year.

Under current law, a governor can cut 5 percent of any appropriation, but no more than 3 percent of any of the 10 appropriated funds that make up the state budget.

The legislature’s approval is required to make reductions that exceed either threshold.

Malloy is also proposing to increase the current ceilings to a maximum of 10 percent of any appropriation and 5 percent of any fund. Barnes characterized this as a modest change.

The law also bars the governor from cutting municipal aid. The governor is seeking authority to reduce up to 5 percent from local grant programs.

Towns and cities are receiving $2.9 billion in state aid this year. A 5 percent cut would amount to a reduction of $149 million.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities opposes the governor’s recommendation to repeal the prohibition concerning town aid, said Jim Finley, executive director of the statewide association of cities and towns.

Malloy is also proposing the legislature give him authority to cut other spending that is now exempted from unilateral reductions.

He is asking lawmakers to repeal prohibitions against cutting appropriations for the Office of State Ethics, the Freedom of Information Commission and the State Elections Enforcement Commission.

The three independent watchdogs are part of the Office of Government Accountability. The governor’s budget makes several proposals to streamline the OGA, including consolidating all legal and other support staff currently assigned to each component agency.

The legislature passed a law in 2004 that expressly prohibited the governor from cutting the budgets of the three watchdog agencies, largely to protect them against retribution from the governor’s office.

The Malloy administration has clashed with the nine independent divisions of the OGA over the interim appointment of an acting agency head after the super-agency was formed in a government consolidation two years ago.

More recently, there has been a disagreement over whether a commission of representatives from each division gets to evaluate the OGA’s executive administrator. The administration took the position that the legislature did not give the panel that authority.

Barnes said the administration is not targeting the three watchdog agencies in question.

He said the governor’s office does not believe the 2004 prohibition is necessary to protect their independence. He also said nothing that the administration is proposing would affect their autonomy.

Malloy is also proposing to give state agencies more latitude to move money around in their budgets.

At this time, the Finance Advisory Committee must approve budget transfers that exceed $50,000 or 10 percent of a specific appropriation.

Malloy is proposing to raise the threshold to the lesser of $250,000 or 15 percent of any specific appropriation.

The nine-member panel is composed of the governor, lieutenant governor, the comptroller, the state treasurer and five lawmakers. All transfer requests are channeled through the governor’s budget office.

Kane serves on the Finance Advisory Committee. He said the governor’s proposal will reduce oversight of agency transfers.

Additionally, the governor wants to be able to recommend budgets for all three branches of state government to reflect his preferred policies and priorities.

Currently, the legislature and the Judicial Department recommend their own budgets. Legislators and the governor set the judicial branch’s budget.

The administration contends that giving the governor authority to recommend an all-government budget will help the executive branch fulfill its constitutional duty to offer a balanced budget.

Barnes said the governor’s proposal would not give the executive branch more power over the other two branches. He said the legislature still must approve state budgets. He also noted that the legislative and judicial branches have cooperated with the administration on budgeting.