Rats in the State Capitol

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No, I’m not talking about rodents or calling people in the legislature names. I’m talking about a legislative procedure that is employed year after year, allowing special interests to evade public scrutiny.

As most informed citizens are aware, the State Legislature meets for a few months each year. State senators and representatives propose legislation, which is reviewed by committees, such as Transportation, Education, Public Health etc. Transparency reigns. Proposed bills are posted online, public hearings are held (sometimes lasting all night), committees vote on which bills to forward to the General Assembly for final vote, and bills that are passed are sent to the governor for signature. Exactly what you would expect from a well-functioning government.

However, few are aware that there is a separate process available to insiders. Items that fail to get out of committee or are voted down by the legislature can end up in the implementer bill. The implementer bill is supposed to be technical legislation creating the legal authority to spend moneys as required by enacted legislation. It is typically passed in a few hours at the end of the legislative session. In the tradition of Nancy Pelosi’s famous statement about Obama Care, “We have to pass the bill so you know what’s in it.”  This year’s 739-page implementer bill was given to legislators less than 24 hours before it came up for a vote. Non-transparent additions to the implementer bill are so common that they have been given the name “Rats” by legislators.

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Let’s look at a couple of examples in the 2022 implementer bill that did not pass through the transparent process of government that we should expect.

State law provides that school districts be reimbursed for a portion of their school construction costs ranging from 10% for Greenwich to 80% for Hartford, based on the wealth of the district. Perhaps you might not have noticed a provision on page 689 of the implementer bill that provided the Cheshire school district reimbursement for school construction at a 50% rate, when they normally would have received only 36%, pursuant to the state formula. Interestingly, this change came just before Cheshire put a $166 million construction program up for referendum. Congratulations Senator Abrams and Representative Linehan.

Apparently international travel subsidies were also on the hidden agenda in Hartford. Direct flights to Jamaica, instead of having to make a connection or drive to New York? No problem for State Representative Bobby Gibson to deliver the goodies to his constituents, without having to get legislation through the Transportation Committee. All it cost was a $2 million payment of taxpayer money to Spirit Airlines.

Responsibility for allowing this non-transparent parallel legislative system rests squarely with Senate President Pro Tempore, Martin Looney and House Speaker, Matt Ritter.

Connecticut taxpayers have a second line of defense against special interests – our governor has a line-item veto. However, the line-item veto is exceedingly rare, from 1971 to 2015, governors have vetoed 615 bills, but only 8 of these were line-item vetoes. Even with two lines of defense, the special interests are winning.

When we consider everything from the numerous Bridgeport shenanigans, to Kosta Diamantis’ corrupt school construction racket, to the State Pier, to the Sema4 no-bid contracts, and rats in our legislation; Connecticut’s reputation for corrupt politics seems well deserved.