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Jamming things through

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Connecticut Democrats have just passed another tax-and-spend budget. Using their overwhelming majorities in the legislature, they jammed it through. Gov. Ned Lamont released the 527-page budget document on the afternoon of June 2. Less than 24 hours later, Democrats forced a House vote, passing the budget before Republicans and the public had much time to find out what was in it. Shades of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s call to pass Obamacare to find out what was in it.

That’s how the Democrats are wielding their absolute power in Hartford. Things become irreversible facts before anyone knows enough to object, or to offer other views or alternatives.

Legislative Democrats are not the only ones pursuing this strategy. Lamont looks to be doing the same, if not worse.

Take the new Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Authority. A few weeks ago, internecine warfare broke out between Lamont and leading Democrats in the legislature over House and Senate Demo-crats’ legislation creating the authority.

Lamont threatened to veto the bill. One day later, Senate Demo-crats passed it anyway. Lamont criticized the bill, saying it created a “top-heavy” board of directors, and a cumbersome and drawn-out contracting process for potential private-sector service providers. Specifically, he complained that contracting under the legislators’ bill required “a two-thirds vote of the board, to be taken only after a three to four month waiting period.”

Actually, if you looked at the legislators’ bill, there was no language specifying these voting requirements and waiting periods. However, in the section of the bill addressing requests for proposals from outside contractors, the following sentence appeared: “The establishment of such criteria (for evaluating proposals) shall be subject to the notice and adoption requirements specified in section 1-121 of the general statutes.”

Section 1-121 sets standards for all quasi-public bodies, which legislative Democrats assumed would include the new authority. The requirements of section 1-121 aren’t cumbersome for the sake of being cumbersome. They are good government provisions.

There are provisions for (1) prior notice, (2) public comment, and (3) voting requirements. First, there’s a requirement for “at least thirty days’ notice by publication in the Connecticut Law Journal.” Second, the notice must specify “when, where and how interested persons may present their views.” Third, actual adoption of a proposal requires “a two-thirds vote of the full membership of the board of directors.”

Lamont has other ideas. His budget includes revisions of the paid-leave bill that eviscerate these good-governance requirements with respect to outside contracting. First, criteria for evaluating proposals are divided into two categories, “standard” and “additional standard.” A layman’s read of the revisions (see line 7647 and lines 7761-7808 in the budget document) suggests that staff of the authority – without any vote of the board – can make and enter contracts so long as the staff uses “standard criteria.”

The “standard criteria” set forth are eminently appropriate, but too general to be meaningful. There are six “standard criteria”: transparency, cost, efficiency, quality, user experience, accountability, and, finally, “cost-benefit analysis documenting direct and indirect costs, including qualitative and quantitative benefits.”

Notice and board approval appear to apply only to “additional standard criteria.” Lamont’s budget states (lines 7782-7786): “The establishment of additional standard criteria shall be approved by a two-thirds vote of the board after such criteria have been posted on a public Internet site maintained by the authority for notice and comment for at least one week prior to such vote.” One week? Without any reference to where, when and how the public might comment in this brief time? Really?

Evidently, Lamont considers public comment to be nothing more than a useless “waiting period.”

Shortly before the budget was released, Lamont issued a news release announcing agreement with leading Democrats in the legislature that removed his threat to veto the paid-leave bill. The release described these then-unspecified revisions as “streamlining.”

This isn’t “streamlining.” It is playing fast and loose. One week is the blink of an eye. Before anyone knows or can react, it seems that contracts can be awarded to outside contractors under Lamont’s streamlining scheme. It is more jamming and ramming things through – riding roughshod over normal democratic process, agency procedures and established law for quasi-public bodies.

If this is a misread of the revisions in Lamont’s budget document, where’s the “streamlining” that Lamont claims, and how otherwise has Lamont circumvented required super-majority voting by the full board, and what other language authorizes “the professional staff at the agency to score and award contracts” as Lamont’s news release claims?

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