Some legislators want governor to have more budget authority
HARTFORD -- New Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has repeatedly stated everything is on the table as he figures out how to deal with Connecticut's $3.4 billion deficit. Three fiscally conservative state Senate Democrats want to give him the authority to make good on that pledge, even if it means taking some power away from the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
Sens. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk; Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury, and Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, are co-sponsoring legislation to grant "all extraordinary powers" to the chief executive necessary for him or her to balance the budget during times of extreme fiscal crisis.
Slossberg, who recently co-chaired a bipartisan commission charged with recommending ways to streamline government, said the vaguely worded proposal arose from frustrations over altering the course of the bureaucracy in Hartford.
"We're going to have to make some serious and significant changes, and every time somebody brings up a proposal -- restructuring or reorganization -- the next you hear is all the reasons you can't do it," Slossberg said. "We want to make sure the governor has every option to really change things around so we can put Connecticut on the right path."
Malloy delivers his first two-year budget Feb. 16.
Duff said the extra powers will depend on the governor's proposal and the reaction to it. But he would like to consider giving Malloy greater ability to consolidate agencies and repurpose state workers.
"To a certain extent the governor's hands are tied in a lot of ways, and making the chief executive a little bit more nimble in extreme financial times is probably a good thing," Duff said. "Any legislature, by nature, moves slowly."
Duff, Hartley and Slossberg in recent years have, with a couple of other Senate colleagues, displayed some independence by bucking their more liberal leadership on certain budget matters, including tax hikes.
Asked if their proposal reflects a concern Malloy, who describes himself as a fiscal conservative, will have a hard time selling a tough budget to members of his own party, Duff said, "Some of us have been sounding the siren call for years now about the deficit. While we have a governor who gets it and who's going to present a budget that is difficult, it's important that the Legislature also own up to its responsibilities. And if they don't, that power should go to the governor."
Malloy spokeswoman Colleen Flanagan said the governor appreciates their gesture and confidence, but views the proposal as unnecessary.
"He believes that within our current framework the governor has the ability and authority to propose and sign balanced budgets that are fiscally responsible and reflect the ideals and commitments of the state of Connecticut," Flanagan said.
The issue of executive power in dire financial times arose during the 2010 election when Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley, of Greenwich, told the New Haven Register, "declaring a fiscal emergency allows a governor to no longer be bound by the union contracts."
Foley received a scathing rebuke from state employees, whose leaders said he displayed "ignorance of Connecticut state law" and "a callous disregard for the middle class."
A governor generally cannot make radical overhauls of state agencies or the work force, from reorganizing departments to offering early retirement incentives, without changes in legislation or collective bargaining agreements.
But governors do have the power to lay off workers and cut small percentages of funds -- up to 5 percent per line item -- from enacted budgets.
And if a governor and the Legislature do not reach a budget deal by the start of the new fiscal year each July 1, the chief executive has the power, through executive orders, to issue mini-budgets to keep essential services running while delaying or defunding others.
"If the Democrats pass this now, they may not like the consequences when the other party's governor is in office," he said.