Surprise!  CT Legislature decides to function in the dark

As the former House Chair of the Connecticut General Assembly’s Program Review and Investigation Committee, I’ve waited with baited breath as Connecticut’s legislative leaders’ contemplated ways to trim their generous legislative branch budget.

One option facing the Democratic-controlled Legislative Management Committee was to reduce the number of partisan, political staff that serve as the part-time legislator’s year-around aides.

Alternatively, legislative leaders announced that would have to consider taking the unprecedented and illogical step of eliminating the professional staff who work for the critically important Program Review and Investigation Committee, the primary entity that allows the legislature to investigate and oversee Executive Branch programs.

What, oh what, would legislative leaders do faced with such a “difficult” decision?

Should they take a small step that might reduce their power of incumbency or decide it is better to simply fly blind when it comes to the Legislative Branch’s oversight function.

With the stark headline, CT legislature’s chief investigative panel to lose all staff, the CT Mirror is now reporting the recent decision made by the legislative leaders.

CT Mirror’s Keith Phaneuf explains,

State legislative leaders have eliminated the General Assembly’s chief investigative arm, reassigning most of the Program Review and Investigations Committee’s 11-member staff to other duties in coming months.

The committee was established 44 years ago over the veto of then-Gov. Thomas Meskill.

The moves cap months of negotiations over the program review office between leaders of the Democratic majorities in the state House and Senate.

The $19.76 billion state budget enacted in May for the 2016-17 fiscal year includes a vague directive that the Legislative Branch achieve $750,000 in savings. Democratic leaders initially announced it would be achieved by eliminating six of the 12 program review staff posts.

[The] alternative, ultimately, was to eliminate the committee’s staff but let most of them remain in state employment.

[…]

During the last recession, program review staff recommended changes involving prescription drug purchasing and transitioning more nursing home patients into home care that saved just over $200 million in 2010 and 2011 combined, according to the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis.

But legislative leaders have said tough fiscal decisions had to be made.

[…]

Sharkey and Looney said they value the program review office’s work but they also felt the legislative branch’s portion of the budget — albeit a small one — should sacrifice in the same way as the rest of state government.

The Republican minorities in the House and Senate had recommended cutting the entire program review operation in an alternative budget plan.

By eliminating the Program Review and Investigations Committee’s professional staff, Connecticut’s elected state senators and state representatives have taken another giant step in giving up their constitutional duty to review and investigate the actions taken by Governor Dannel Malloy and Connecticut’s Executive Branch of government.