Sen. McLachlan Backs Bill to Make UConn Budget Transparent (Journal Inquirer)

March 14, 2016

Bill would make UConn budget transparent
By Mike Savino
Journal Inquirer
Saturday, March 12, 2016

State colleges Friday opposed a bill that would require Connecticut’s public universities to post their budget information online, saying the 17-school system already does so.

“We share the committee’s desire for transparency so that the public may see how General Fund appropriations and revenues from tuition and fees are spent by our institutions,” Connecticut State Colleges & Universities Legislative Program Manager Sean Bradley wrote in his testimony to the Appropriations Committee.

“This is why we have been posting these documents online for the public to view for years. We believe it is the right thing to do.”
Proponents of the bill, though, said the state should take steps to ensure more public access to public university budgets, particularly after the University of Connecticut Board of Trustees crafted its $1.3 billion in a private meeting last June.

UConn didn’t submit any written or oral testimony, and a spokeswoman declined to comment Friday.

Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, expressed frustration that the board approved the budget without any public discussion.

“The public has a right to see how their taxpayer money is being spent, and this includes how our state universities decide to allocate it,” he wrote in his testimony.

He added: “Transparency and open government are key components in keeping government accountable.”

Comptroller Kevin Lembo also supported the bill, saying it would build upon the OpenConnecticut portal his office launched three years ago.
“Despite our recent success, there is still much more we can do to ensure that the public, policy makers, researchers, and journalists have the access they need to make informed decisions, evaluate programs, or inform the public of government actions,” he wrote.

Lembo added the public should also have access to detailed expense information because the General Assembly’s budget allocated funds to public universities as a block grant.

The bill would only require the universities to post the information on their websites, but Lembo offered to work with the two systems to share the information through OpenConnecticut.

The state’s Freedom of Information Commission ruled last month that UConn violated the FOI Act by going into executive session to discuss its budget.

UConn attorneys admitted that the discussion exceed what is allowed during an executive session. The commission ruled that the discussion should have been public all along.

UConn also offered to compile minutes of the executive session as part of an agreement not to rule on the matter, but the commission rejected the proposal.