The state Senate voted early Wednesday morning to provide incentives for small businesses, increase taxes on “roll your own” cigarettes and erase the state law mandating a minimum number of state troopers.
By a vote of 88 to 53, the Democratic majority ensured passage of the massive, 469-page bill as all Republicans voted against the measure shortly before 8 p.m. The Senate then granted final legislative approval on the measure early Wednesday by a vote of 22 to 14 on strict party lines.
Both the House and Senate also approved another key bill in an all-day marathon in special session that was called to implement the state’s $20.5 billion budget. The votes came after Republicans charged strenuously that the Democratic-controlled legislature went far beyond the scope of its original plans.
Embattled House Speaker Christopher Donovan gaveled in the House shortly after 12 noon, presiding over the chamber for the traditional opening prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. Donovan, a Meriden Democrat who is running for Congress in the 5th District, then stepped down from the dais for the remainder of the day. The chamber had been more somber than usual because Donovan’s campaign finance director, Robert Braddock Jr., was arrested by the FBI on May 30 in an undercover sting operation regarding campaign contributions.
“There was an awkwardness certainly at first when we came into session,” House Republican leader Larry Cafero said in an interview. “There was a melancholy feeling – seeing him up there. He’s my friend. He is our Speaker. It was awkward.”
The budget bill also included $3.5 million in a loan for cash-strapped Bridgeport, but the city will not get the money unless the state education commissioner has a role in providing names of candidates for the city’s next schools superintendent. The highly unusual provision – unprecedented to some – had no public hearing, and the education language was buried near the bottom of the bill that had about 15,000 lines. Famed educator Diane Ravitch tweeted late Tuesday night that it was a “bad deal” in Connecticut.
“You’ll get the money, but you gotta pick the guy we say you gotta pick,” Cafero said on the House floor.
Out of 111 concepts in the omnibus budget bill, 40 of them never had a public hearing – more than one third, Cafero said. In the two bills debated Tuesday, 137 concepts were covered.
“Today was not a good day for the state of Connecticut,” Cafero said in his wrap-up remarks. “Thank you, Mr. Speaker.”
Sharkey said that Tuesday night would be the last time he would be summarizing a bill as the House Majority leader. He is expected to be the new speaker in early January after Donovan’s term ends.
“This is a good bill. It oughta pass,” Sharkey said in his final remarks at 11:17 p.m.
The Republicans said that lawmakers should be debating only on the narrow issues that involve implementing the nuts and bolts and policies of the budget that takes effect July 1. Lawmakers debated two massive bills with numerous intricacies: one was 469 pages, and the other was more than 190 pages.
But Sharkey and other Democrats said they were fully within the rules to call a separate, second session to address numerous items that they said had been filibustered last month by the Republicans.
Many of the items in the bills could have been completed during the regular session that ended May 9, but they were delayed until time ran out.
“There’s a reason why a lot of this didn’t get done – using their right to filibuster,” Sharkey said of Republicans in an interview. “You can’t have it both ways.”
But state Rep. Whit Betts, a Bristol Republican, described the measure as “an unbelievably long, complicated, incomprehensible bill put together by one party. … This is scary, scary stuff.”
One of the controversial issues during the session was the Malloy administration’s plan to eliminate the 13-year-old state law that mandates a minimum of 1,248 state troopers. Malloy’s budget chief, Ben Barnes, said in an interview in the Capitol press room that the state would need an additional $18 million to hire enough trooperst to meet that minimum threshold.
“We don’t have the money,” Barnes said. “We think public safety is being well provided by the police force as it is.”
But the state police union is still battling in court over the issue, which began with a lawsuit to overturn the layoffs of state troopers. As part of that case, a state Superior Court judge ruled that the 1,248-minimum law needed to be enforced. The union viewed that as a victory, but the Malloy administration has appealed the ruling. Besides appealing the ruling, the administration also moved to change the law in the legislature.
The trooper case was the second time that the Malloy administration lost a court case and tried to change the law. The other time was a loss over the taxation of the “roll your own” cigarettes, which was included in the same budget-implementation bill with the troopers.
McKinney quoted former Senate President Pro Tem Kevin Sullivan when the legislature passed the mandatory minimum of 1,248 troopers. He also extensively quoted Malloy’s statements as a candidate for governor in favor of the minimum level.
“Wow! How quickly we have changed our position” on the issue, McKinney said on the Senate floor in a speech that stretched past midnight. “We know why he’s doing this. We lost in court on this. … We lost when we tried to take over the Bridgeport board of education as well, didn’t we?”
“We couldn’t take over the board of ed” but would now play a key role in approving the next superintendent in Bridgeport, McKinney said. “Now, we’re making an end-run. … I think everyone knows my brother has taught in the Bridgeport public school system for over 20 years. I know that section never had a public hearing. … But we’re going to do it. Why? Because we can. Instead of being the most transparent administration, maybe it should be ‘we’re-going-to-do-it-because-we-can administration. … No way we would do this under Governor Rell. So why are we doing it now?”
Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, a Democrat who serves as the highest-ranking senator, said lawmakers need to remember the projected deficit of $3.3 billion last year. Malloy acknowledged the size of the deficit before taking steps to close it, he said. Those steps included the largest tax increase in state history, including hikes in the income, sales, corporation, cigarette, and alcohol taxes.
“We did not shred the safety net at a time of greatest need for those less fortunate,” he said. “Connecticut is one of the few states that made those wise choices.”
Sen. Len Suzio, a Meriden Republican, said the tax increase on roll your own cigarettes was “cold-hearted” and “antagonistic” to the small businesses the run the smokeshops.
Two of the four Democrats who voted against the bill in the House – Reps. Frank Nicastro of Bristol and Daniel Rovero of Killingly – echoed Republicans’ arguments that there was too much in the bill and too little time to digest it. Each also objected to the bill’s reduction of the mandatory number of state troopers without waiting for the results of a study.
“I had a lot of concerns,” said Nicastro, former 10-year mayor of Bristol. “First of all, you get handed a packet like that, you haven’t got time to read it and it leaves so much to be desired. You never know what you’re approving when you have something like that, and that’s wrong. But … lowering of the state police requirement that bothered me immensely…. Our state police are doing a tough job out there. It’s getting rougher and tougher every day … People are becoming more violent on the road…. I really believe that that’s the wrong move, and we’re going to be sorry we did that.”
In remarks after 11 p.m. Tuesday, Cafero said that the deadline for analyzing the state’s revenue was pushed to a new date after the election.
“You wonder why the public looks at us with cynicism,” Cafero said on the House floor. “People need to rely on what we do when we are prescribed to do it.”
Real estate investor Mark Greenberg, who is running in the Republican primary in the 5th Congressional District on August 14, sharply criticized Donovan on Tuesday.
“Chris Donovan’s absence from the Speaker’s podium at today’s special session of the legislature is another reminder of how damaged and ineffective Donovan’s campaign finance scandal has left him, his campaign and his position in the General Assembly,” Greenberg said. “Donovan can’t talk about the FBI investigation, he can’t perform his Constitutional duties as Speaker, and he can’t even say how many people work on his campaign. That list of problems adds up to a couple of things Chris Donovan can do: step down as Speaker and suspend his campaign for Congress. He stepped down temporarily today because of these problems – he should make that action permanent.”
The Malloy administration has repeatedly pledged transparency in state government, but Senate Republican leader John McKinney said a provision in Tuesday’s bill was one of the most sweeping anti-freedom of information efforts in many years.
“I find it outrageous the administration would try to put this language in an implementer bill and more outrageous that they would try to hide this information,” McKinney said in an interview. “I absolutely believe this was an intent to sneak it through.”
He added, “I was outraged when I read reports abou the FOIA language and then saw the FOIA language in the bill. It was language that came from the administration. … It’s one of the most far-reaching exemptions I’ve ever seen. We’re well beyond this was just a drafting error.”
The session was filled with the talk of politics in an election year with Congressional primaries only two months away and the entire legislature up for re-election in less than five months.
In his wrap-up remarks downstairs on the House floor, Sharkey admitted, ”We’re thinking now of November – we’re all up for re-election.”
“Let’s be honest with ourselves. This is an implementer bill,” Sharkey said, adding that the broad provisions and concepts that were discussed Tuesday had been available to the Republicans on Saturday. “We made a concerted effort to make sure that everyone had an opportunity to see what was in the bill. It is true. It is a big bill. It’s also a big bill because we’re doing one implementer. If someone thinks it’s more efficient for us to do four bills instead of one, then I’d like to hear that. … There’s no conspiracy. There’s no ulterior motive, other than to be efficient. … You can’t have it both ways. If you voted no on the budget and you voted no on the revisions back in May, how is it that you would sit at the table to implement the language of the budget that you voted ‘no’ on?”
He added, “I don’t think it’s fair to criticize something that you voted ‘no’ on
The House started debate on the implementer – emergency certified bill 6001 – at about 2:35 p.m. Tuesday with a speech by Rep. Toni Walker, an influential New Haven Democrat who co-chairs the budget-writing appropriations committee. The bill covers everything from dental benefits to Medicaid, military accounts, Jobs First, aerospace joint ventures.
“All of us voted for everything that is here,” Walker said on the House floor. “I move passage of the bill.”
Cafero noted several times that the massive budget implementation bill is 469 pages long with 287 sections.
One of the biggest items in the budget bill involved increasing fees and taxes on roll-your-own tobacco shops.
Another major item that was wrapped into the measure was Senate Bill 1 – a Democratic-written bill that passed the Senate by a wide margin but was never debated in the House during the regular session that ended May 9. The bill would allow the DECD to use 4 percent of bond funds for administrative purposes, but those expenses were previously paid by operating expenses.
“The more operating expenses we can push on something else, the less bad our budget looks,” Cafero said. “Picture that bookkeeping gimmick. … That’s how you get in trouble.”
The Democratic-written bill gained Republican support to help small businesses with up to 100 employees. Previously, companies with up to 50 employees had been targeted. As a result, an additional 3,600 companies would now be eligible for loans that they could not get in the past.
Some of the items in the massive bill were funded with more than $1 million in surplus money from the state’s probate fund, which only developed a surplus after a major reorganization and realignment of the probate court system.
“Our probate system, the old way, was becoming unsustainable,” Cafero said. “We set up a system that hopefully would allow our probate system to sustain itself for years to come. … When we sweep funds out of an account, it was our governor who called it a gimmick. These are what we call one-shots. They are one-time revenue hits.”
Cafero was also concerned about legislative actions that would impact a slowly vanishing breed – local, neighborhood pharmacies.
“I did indeed receive many, many calls from small and independent pharmacies,” Cafero said in response to Walker. “Almost all of the those calls – unanimously – were for increasing dispensing fees to small pharmacies.”
Rather than dealing with dispensing fee, lawmakers focused on changes in the average wholesale price of prescription drugs.
Cafero peppered Walker with a series of questions on various aspects of the enormous bill.
A new Department of Aging was supposed to start on July 1, 2013, but Cafero said, “You’ve got one person running a department for six months. What was the rush? Why did we want to push it up six months?
Cafero said that a controversial proposal regarding a Freedom of Information exemption ”has nothing to do with the budget.”
Cafero denounced the use of budgetary gimmicks and one-shots to close the budget gap in a 287-section bill.
“When are we going to learn, folks? When are we going to learn?” Cafero boomed on the House floor. “We’re making the same mistakes, over and over.”
The Courant’s Daniela Altimari reports:
Both Cafero and McKinney railed against the need for the special sessions, which they viewed as potential goodie bags for Democratic lawmakers chock full of bills that don’t have anything to do with the budget.
At the close of the regular session, lawmakers were told they would be called into special session only to implement the budget. “So why do we need a new special session within a special session when the Constitution says finish your business on time, midnight May 9?” McKinney asked.
“Because people want to pass bill that didn’t pass by our constitutionally required deadline, that’s the answer,” McKinney said.
“Today, we are going to be asked to vote on two pieces of legislation–one is 472 pages, the other is 192 pages. And I would guarantee other than the leaders of this General Assembly, not a single state representative or state senator has read those bills.”
He decried the “Christmas tree effect,” which is legislative-speak for bills larded with special goodies for individual lawmakers.
McKinney noted that the framers of the state Constitution created a part-time legislature and grew increasingly animated as he continued to denounce the special session.
“Are we becoming a full-time legislature?” he asked. “Does the fact that the Constitution sets out dates for us to meet and … adjourn mean anything to you?
“If you can’t get your business [done] on time, don’t be in a business at all,” he told his fellow lawmakers in the Senate circle. “We are going to be back here doing dozens and dozens and dozens of bills that have nothing to do with the budget, that this legislator or that legislator wanted as their pet project that didn’t get passed on time and all of a sudden we’re going to do them.”
McKinney alluded to the controversy involving Donovan, who is seeking a seat in Congress. Late last month, Donovan’s campaign finance director was arrested on charges of conspiring to conceal the names of campaign donors.
McKinney didn’t mention Donovan by name but he did speak of the “very dark cloud this entire legislature and every one of us sits under now. There’s no need to even go any further, we all know what that cloud is and why we’re here and what we’re doing today I think is wrong.”
Cafero struck a similar theme on the second floor of the Capitol in the House. He said special sessions should be for emergencies and “things that cannot wait.”
Cafero said the call for the special session has dramatically expanded beyond the scope of implementing the state budget, and is larded with items relating to everything from energy audits to the Oddfellows Home to property tax matters.
“Anything goes,” Cafero said.
He decried one-party rule, saying that the Republican minority in the legislature was largely excluded from the conversation about the scope of the special session.
Cafero noted that during the entire 2012 legislative session, which ran from February until early May, lawmakers in the House took 466 votes–about 122 of those were appointments and the rest were bills.
Yet during the one-day special session, lawmakers will be asked to vote on about 120 separate concepts, he said.
Cafero also mocked the notion that lawmakers were acting on items that needed “emergency certification,” noting that many of the items up for a vote Tuesday are hardly pressing matters.
“Whatever we’re doing to the Oddfellows Home of Connecticut, it’s got to be done now or we’re in big trouble,” he said. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is not the way to run a General Assembly, this is not democracy, this is not what our founders meant when they wrote those timed deadlines into our Constitution.”
By 2:15 p.m., the debates on the merits had not yet begun and lawmakers were still battling over the rules of the special sessions.
The massive bill included a section that adds the state healthcare advocate as a voting member of the Health Insurance Exchange Board. Ellen Andrews, the executive director of the Connecticut Health Policy Project, was disappointed by the move.
“The expected passage today of legislation to give the Health Care Advocate, only, a vote on the Health Insurance Exchange Board is a disservice to health care consumers across the state,” she said. “While the Health Care Advocate is a respected and valued member, she serves at the pleasure of the Governor. Consumers will still have no independent voice on a board dominated by insurance interests and charged with deciding what health insurance options will be available on the Exchange. Furthermore, without real consumer membership, the Exchange Board does not comply with federal regulations.”
Andrews continued, “The vote is particularly disappointing in light of the unanimous and bipartisan approval by the House in the regular legislative session of a bill that would have added two new consumer members, as well as two small business representatives. It is hard to understand why the inclusion of consumers and small business members continues to be such a problem given the broad support among rank and file lawmakers.”
The Courant’s summer intern, Wes Duplantier, reports:
Cafero said the FOIA provisions would exempt from public scrutiny information about money the state gives out through economic development programs such its ‘First Five’ program, which allows companies creating more than 200 jobs by 2013 to qualify for additional state tax incentives.
Cafero said the turmoil surrounding the provision showed why lawmakers should not be voting on two omnibus bills with dozens of different components.
“We were told that everything was in here to implement the budget,” Cafero said. “We’ve just stumbled across something that’s, one, rather embarrassing, something that we all don’t want, but at least we’re honest enough to concede that it has nothing to do with implementing the budget.”
“There’s no emergency,” said Cafero, R-Norwalk. “That’s the problem with doing a bill such as this in this manner, with nearly 287 sections.”
Walker responded that lawmakers are in the process of creating an amendment Tuesday afternoon to take the FOIA provisions out of the bill entirely and do not plan to replace them with different langauge.
“We do hear you and we have heard your discussions about it very carefully, and we’ve heard it from everybody else,” said Walker, D-New Haven. “We are making those adjustments.”
When pressed by Cafero, Walker admitted that the FOIA provisions do not implement a part of the budget.
“It does not if we allow it to stay in,” she said.
In the Senate later in the day, McKinney delivered his wrap-up remarks on a 192-page bill in the special session.
“It’s not OK to pass laws that the public has not seen,” McKinney said. “That’s not the way to do business. … It’s time to do business in a different way.”
He added, “An overwhelming majority of our committees do work in a bipartisan way.”
Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, a New Haven Democrat, said the bill included many “corrections, refinements” that included the appointment of the child advocate in the first section of the bill. In section 152, the intent of the section was “not necessarily to privatize or outsource the work of state employees, as some had feared.”
“So much of it is elements of things that were considered time sensitive,” Looney said. “Obviously, it is not a perfect process.”
Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, a Democrat, said in his wrap-up remarks: ”The implementer process has included many items related to the budget. … I do support this bill and look forward to passing the budget implementation bill as well.”
The Senate then voted to approve Senate Bill 501 at about 6:10 p.m. on a strict party-line vote of 22 to 14. The bill was immediately transmitted to the House for a vote there.
In the massive budget implementer, a provision would allow the state to lend the city of Bridgeport up to $3.5 million if the troubled local school district gives the state a hand in selecting its next superintendent.
The measure permits the state to forgive the loan and allow Bridgeport to keep part or all of the money—provided Bridgeport’s school district follows a number of conditions. Among those conditions are a requirement that Bridgeport select its next superintendent or chief financial officer by submitting lists of candidates to state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor.
The commissioner would be able to approve some or all of the candidates and then Bridgeport school board members would be able to select winning candidates from the approved list.
In his wrap-up remarks, Looney said the budget implementation bill would provide funds for a wide variety of programs that will help the citizens of Connecticut.
But McKinney said shortly before midnight that the legislature had not learned from the mistakes of the past by continuing to use gimmicks, fiscal maneuvers, and postponing the implementation of generally accepted accounting principles. He mentioned that the economy is still weak, as shown by the planned departure of respected Norden Systems defense contractor in Norwalk and famed trader Ed Lampert’s prominent hedge fund in Greenwich.
“I approached Senator Williams this morning and said, ‘Have you seen this FOIA language?’ ” McKinney said on the Senate floor. “Senator Williams said ‘I’m outraged,’ to paraphrase, and we don’t support it. That language came from the Office of Policy and Management. … I thank the senator for standing up for the Freedom of Information Act.”
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