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An illegal Power Grab or an Immoral Delegation of Duty?

Malloy Moves Connecticut Toward A One Branch System of Government.

Up until six weeks ago a Connecticut Governor had the authority to cut (rescind) up to 5 percent of any budget line item without legislative review.

It was an extremely powerful tool to deal with budget deficits.

Six weeks ago, when the Malloy/SEBAC concession package failed to get sufficient votes to become law, Governor Malloy called the Connecticut General Assembly into special session and requested that the Legislative grant him super authority to cut up to 10 percent of any given budget line item without Legislative approval.

Following negotiations between the Malloy Administration and Democratic leaders, a bill granting Malloy the 10 percent authority but limiting that number when it came to municipal aid was adopted and signed into law.

Now the Malloy Administration claims that the Legislature not only gave him the 10 percent rescission authority he requested but ALSO gave him the authority to cut $700 million from the budget regardless of where those cuts come from.

Sometimes there are stories that are so incredible that it takes a few days for the concept to even sink in.

Keith Phaneuf’s story in yesterday’s CTMirror is just such an example.

Here is what happened;

When Governor Malloy’s Plan B Budget Plan was released on July 15, the new Office of Governmental Accountability received a 17 percent cut and the Office of Policy and Management ordered the staffs at the Freedom of Information Commission, Ethics and Elections Enforcement divisions to reduce their budgets by 15 percent.

When Keith Phaneuf asked about the unprecedented and unauthorized magnitude of the cuts to the watch-dog agencies, Gian-Carl Casa, OPM’s Undersecretary for Legislative Affairs told him “We believe that the statute does give the authority to make the necessary reductions…”

Casa went on to say that a section of the new law (Section Eight) allows OPM, with the governor's approval, to reduce expenditures "by the amount of the Executive Branch budget savings" that would have occurred from the concession deal. In this case the amount to cut would be $700 million.

However, in another part of the new law (Section Six) the Legislature updated the existing state statute that grants the governor that authority to make budget cuts. They expanded it from 5 percent to 10 percent of an appropriation but then went on to limit that expanded authority by removing municipal aid from the 10 percent threshold.

When the new law was adopted the meaning seemed pretty clear. In fact, when State Senator Toni Harp, the co-chair of the Appropriations Committee, introduced the bill on the Senate floor she said that the 10 percent rescission authority and the layoffs were needed to balance the budget in response to the failure of the Malloy/SEBAC concession deal.

Now, however, the Malloy Administration is saying that because Section Eight does not contain the 10 percent limit the two sections work independently and the Legislature gave the Governor the authority to cut what ever he deems appropriate when it comes to reducing the budget by the $700 million needed to deal with the failure of the alloy/SEBAC agreement.

In this case, the Malloy Administration claims it was the authority to hit the watch-dog agencies especially hard.

While the focus of CTMirror article is the fate of the watch-dog agencies - with legislators coming to their defense saying that if a concession agreement is reached Governor Malloy should immediately restore funding to these good government programs - the underlying issue is even greater and a far more serious threat to how Connecticut state government functions.

Senator Toni Harp told the CTMirror that the legislature’s intent was clear. Governor Malloy DOES NOT have the authority to cut an agency budget by more than 10 percent.

The Office of Policy and Management disagrees and not only claims that it does have the authority but is actually implementing that authority.

In fact, the OPM undersecretary goes on to tell Phaneuf that they are not prepared to say what will happens if the agreement is approved.

His actual quote was “Right now we're dealing with the reality of not having an agreement…We will revisit the budget in light of vacancies, retirements and other things if that has changed."

That leaves us with two critical questions.

(1) Are the Malloy Administration’s actions an illegal powers grab or was it an immoral delegation of duty by the General Assembly?

And knowing how government works in Connecticut it seems highly unlikely that the Malloy Administration discovered their new power and utilized it without telling anyone, so

(2) Did the Democratic leaders know the bill they were voting on gave Malloy this incredible power away and they didn’t tell their fellow legislators or did the Malloy Administration inform the leaders after the fact that they were interpreting the new law in this absurd and arguably illegal way and the Democratic Leaders remained silent in the face of that power grab.

Read Keith Phaneuf’s story here:

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun