HARTFORD – Connecticut lawmakers are moving toward fully funding and staffing the State Contracting Standards Board, but won’t give the board the authority to review the contracts of every quasi-public state agency this year.
The State Senate voted unanimously Friday on a bill to take steps to protect State Contracting Standards Board funding and staffing from the state’s governors, who have routinely pushed against giving resources to the board’s oversight of state contracting processes. The bill still needs approval from the House.
The bill requires the board to hire five, full-time staff by September, and lawmakers will vote on a budget adjustment that includes $467,055 to fund those employees. The board would be required to maintain five, full-time staff, and the governor would not be allowed to cut its funding.
State Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, co-chair of the Government and Administrations Committee, said the board was meant to give Connecticut residents confidence in the contracts their state government entered into, but it has never been given the resources to fully function and provide necessary oversight of the contracting process.
“The board over those 15 years has done incredible work, and the one staff person that they’ve had [Executive Director David Guay] has done incredible work over the course of those 15 years,” Flexer said. “But they have not been empowered to fully realize the vision of the legislation that created this board.”
State Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, the ranking Senate Republican on the Government and Administrations Committee, said the bill was one of the “broadest and most significant” policies he has worked on to increase accountability and transparency in state government.
But he and Flexer said it didn’t go as far as they wanted in giving the board oversight of quasi-public agencies.
An earlier version of the bill would also extend the board’s oversight to include the state’s quasi-public agencies. Currently, the board only has jurisdiction to review one quasi-public, the Connecticut Port Authority – a power lawmakers granted the board last year.
But the state’s quasi-public agencies strongly opposed that expansion, and several raised their objections to lawmakers.
Connecticut Green Bank said it needs to “move at the speed of business” in its mission of financing clean energy. The Green Bank said it already has an efficient and transparent process, and adding requirements would hurt its ability to draw in private investment.
The Connecticut Airport Authority, Access Health CT, Connecticut Innovations, and other quasi-publics all said their ability to be nimble and flexible outside the state bureaucracy is what makes them successful.
“Our core concern is that under proposals like these, mission-driven activities of quasi-agencies like the Green Bank would be imperiled as a great volume of activity would be forced to ricochet between bureaucratic organizations unaffiliated with the mission and understanding of a given contracting agency,” Green Bank Associate Director of Regulatory Policy Matt Macunas wrote to lawmakers on the Government and Administrations Committee.
Flexer said she thinks it’s a mistake to remove that oversight of quasi-public agencies, which she said are doing the “public’s work” and should have the same scrutiny into their contracts as any other state agency. But Flexer said that with the clock ticking to the end of the legislative session lawmakers had to “find consensus and compromise” to staff the board.
“The people of Connecticut should have confidence in any public work that has been conducted, whether it is via traditional state agency, or quasi-public agency,” Flexer said.
Sampson said the key hurdle is that there is a broad spectrum of quasi-public agencies, some more privatized than others. That makes it difficult to write a “one size fits all” law, and lawmakers weren’t able to get to that point this session, he said.
Sampson said legislators would continue to try to find a “responsible policy” for overseeing quasi-publics, not to “undermine” them, but to give Connecticut residents more accountability and transparency in their government.