CT Republicans call for increased transparency and accountability in government spending

March 17, 2023

CT Republicans call for increased transparency and accountability in government spending

Hartford Courant

Republican leaders of the Connecticut Senate unveiled a slew of policy proposals Thursday to increase transparency of municipal and state disbursements of taxpayer dollars and federal funding in an announcement that coincided with National Sunshine Week and Freedom of Information Day.

Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly said that the proposals would enhance current oversight of federal COVID-19 relief and infrastructure funds and establish a Chief Accountability Office to prevent and expose “fraud, waste and abuse” of expenditures in the state.

“We are seeing on a repeated basis different issues where government funds are either misappropriated, not appropriated, or put somewhere that wasn’t the original intent,” Kelly said. “We need to respect the sacrifice that Connecticut families make every day to send tax dollars to Hartford.”

As justification for the legislation, Kelly and his colleagues pointed to the 2021 theft of $600,000 in COVID relief funds from the city of New Haven, questions over school construction program spending, and a January audit by the Office of Policy and Management that found that 15 municipalities misappropriated nearly 20% of federal pandemic funds.

With $5.4 billion in federal infrastructure funds starting to flow into state coffers to rebuild bridges, upgrade public transit and mitigate roadway congestion, Kelly said that now is the time to escalate oversight.

“[This is] a once in a lifetime opportunity to make sure that our transportation system becomes first rate. It’s an investment in the Connecticut economy, but more importantly, it’s an investment in Connecticut labor and families to build those transportation projects out, and also, at the same time, to make sure that they are done with an eye to improving our environmental awareness,” Kelly said. “The only way that’s gonna happen is by making sure that our government that is going to get that money — DOT in specific — is accountable.” The proposals would require the Connecticut State Department of Transportation to dedicate a portion of its website to explain what funds the state has received, how much has been spent and on what, the current status of projects, including their completion dates and whether they are under or over budget and why.

Ranking member of the Transportation Committee Sen. Tony Hwang said that taxpayers shouldn’t need an advanced degree to dissect government data sheets and understand where their dollars are going, saying that such information should be presented in an accessible format.

“Transparency should not be on a need-to-know basis,” Hwang said. “There should be full transparency and accountability of where every taxpayer dollar is going to make our roads more efficient, our bridges safer, our transit systems more efficient. … It should be readily available in this day and age on the websites.”

In addition to other measures the legislation would mandate that the DOT submit quarterly reports of all spending to the Transportation, Environment, Appropriations, Finance, Revenue and Bonding, and Government Administration and Elections Committees.

Chief executive officers of each Connecticut municipality would also need to submit quarterly reports of pandemic relief and stimulus expenditures to the Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management and set a threshold for approval for payments to any one vendor.

The legislation would additionally create a State Accountability Office headed by a Democrat and Republican appointed Chief Accountability Officers to oversee state, quasi-public and municipal disbursement of public funds that would report to the Attorney General or the Chief State’s Attorney when they believe a law has been violated.

President of the Connecticut Parents Union Gwen Samuel said that this level of accountability is crucial to protecting the vulnerable populations and the future of the state.

“There are two things on the table. We can either create, help create taxpayers or tax burdens,” Samuel said. “If the money doesn’t reach the populations that you are trying to help lift off [and] help stabilize Connecticut, then we will continue to spend more for our prison systems than our educational systems.”

Samuel said that lawmakers and the public should not view the proposal in a partisan way.

“I don’t care if you are Republican, Democrat, any affiliation, it is a shared responsibility to ensure that we have an accountable government and that is non-negotiable because we all are hurting,” Samuel said.

Kelly said that he is hopeful for bipartisan support.

“These are not extreme ideas. This is common sense,” Kelly said. “[We want] to make sure that that money coming to Connecticut is used for the intended purpose, to improve our state, improve the lives of our families, and make our neighborhoods more environmentally friendly. That’s good, reasonable, achievable — that is common sense. We think it’s a good idea and we think good ideas find friends. So our hope is in the coming weeks, these good ideas do find friends and we get our government working for the people we serve.”

CT Republicans call for increased transparency and accountability in government spending