While they make up just a tiny fraction of the state budget, the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women and panels on children, African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans have long faced a precarious future.
Now Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is proposing to merge the legislative commissions under a single umbrella, a move he says will save the state more than $1.6 million over the two-year budget cycle.
The new panel — called the Commission on Citizen Advocacy — will consist of the commissions on Asian American affairs, African American affairs, children, Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs and women. It would also include representation from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.
The current combined staff of the commissions is 26; under Malloy’s proposal, the newly merged advocacy panel would employ 18.
Not surprisingly, the plan drew sharp criticism from the leaders of the commissions.
“I’m not clear why the governor felt the need to consolidate the commissions in this manner,” said Teresa C. Younger, executive director of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women. “It almost sounds like he thinks these populations can be categorized and swept into one place.”
Elaine Zimmerman, executive director of the Commission on Children, said Malloy’s plan ”would seriously undermine our mission of ensuring that policymakers here in Hartford make decisions in the best interests of their most important constituents: our children.”
State Rep. Flexer, a Democrat from Killingly, said she is concerned about Malloy’s proposed merger. “The commissions are some of the few agencies we have in state government that are independent voices,” Flexer said. “They are a critical voice to evaluate the programs we have in the state and are some of the most cost-effective state agencies that we have. I’m concerned they will not be able to fullfill their missions if they are merged into one agency.”
The commissions, which are non-partisan and come under the jurisdiction of the legislature, make up just a tiny fraction of the state’s $21.5 billion budget. The Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, for instance, has five staffers and a budget of about $450,000 this year.
The Commission on Children has a staff of five and a two-year budget of just over $1 million, but it brought in nearly $1.5 million in federal, philanthropic, private, and in-kind assistance to community programs.
Their small size hasn’t stopped the panels from being the target of budget-cutting governors. In 2009, Republican M. Jodi Rell proposed eliminating the commissions; in the end, they were spared, but their budgets were cut by a considerable amount.
Malloy’s attempt to merge the commissions under the banner of “citizen advocacy” shows a lack of understanding about the groups, Younger said.
Advocacy is just one part of their mission, she said. The women’s commission, founded in 1973, monitors legislation, reviews public policy initiatives and assesses the impact of state programs on women, among other tasks.
The legislature’s appropriations committee will hold a hearing on the plan to consolidate the commissions on Feb. 19, and, just as they have done in the past, leaders of the panels say they will fight the plan.
“You might recall that a similar consolidation was proposed two years ago,” Zimmerman of the Commission on Children, wrote in a letter to supporters. “Thanks to an amazing show of support by parents, educators, philanthropies, nonprofit groups, and municipal officials, the legislature rejected the idea. We’re intent on a similar outcome this year.”