Bring end to budget secrecy

May 13, 2016

Republican-American Editorial

Connecticut’s legislature is in the midst of special sessions to revise the $20.4 billion 2016-17 budget majority Democratic lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy approved last summer. The legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA) and the governor’s Office of Policy and Management (OPM) predict a $960 million deficit in FY 2016-17, which begins July 1.

The financial turmoil poses a serious threat to Connecticut’s economic future. Unfortunately, the budget process has been cringe-inducing. Democratic legislative leaders have slighted Connecticut residents and businesses, and set up the state for further trouble.

Late May 3, with about 24 hours remaining in the regular legislative session, Democratic leaders reached a budget agreement with Gov. Malloy. Republicans were excluded from negotiations. With time running short, lawmakers of both parties decided to vote on the budget in special session.

But Democrats dragged their feet on releasing the details.

While an informal overview of line items was released May 6, budget legislation wasn’t filed until early May 10.

It wasn’t until that evening that Democratic leaders asked OFA and the Office of Legislative Research to go public with crucial fiscal and policy analysis, according to a Connecticut Mirror report.

Not until 2:30 a.m. Thursday — the same day the Senate was expected to vote — did the Democrats submit legislation governing the budget’s implementation.

Senate Minority Leader Leonard A. Fasano, R-North Haven, and Sen. Robert J. Kane, R-Watertown, Senate ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, hit the nail on the head May 11, saying, “This process is a disgrace to open government and democracy … This shows great disrespect for the state and its constituents.”

In a time of fiscal crisis, residents and businesses deserve to know exactly how their money is spent.

The implementer secrecy is especially despicable.

As Sen. Fasano noted, “The implementer often becomes the Trojan horse of bad policies, hiding them away in the … budget implementation language.

Additionally, an opaque and rushed process is unlikely to produce a sound budget. As we noted May 6, the 2015 legislative session witnessed a last-minute effort to pass a budget — covering FYs 2015-16 and 2016-17 — that was crafted with only Democratic input.

The deficits speak for themselves; Malloy administration Budget Director Benjamin Barnes has said the 2015-16 hole, pegged at $286 million by OFA and at $260 million by state Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo, likely will be filled with money from the $406 million rainy day fund.

In repeating history, Democratic lawmakers have demonstrated they are incapable of learning from their mistakes, probably to the detriment of Connecticut’s already dreadful business climate.

Gov. Malloy should veto any budget that emerges, to tell legislative Democrats their way of doing business is unacceptable.

After all, he is the governor of all Connecticut residents, not just of Democratic legislators and public-employee-union members.

In wielding his veto pen, Gov. Malloy would belatedly honor his campaign pledges to make state government more transparent.