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Legislature’s Transparency Bills a Welcomed Step Toward Accountable Governance

The Government Administration and Elections Committee (GAE) held a public hearing on March 4 to hear testimony on new legislative measures aimed at increasing transparency in state government.  

The legislation calls for the potential revival of the Program Review and Investigations (PRI) Committee, which operated from 1973 until its demise in 2016 as part of budget cuts to address the state’s budget deficit — saving the state $750,000. This committee was instrumental in evaluating the efficiency, effectiveness, performance and compliance of state agency programs. 

Rep. Mary Mushinsky (D-Wallingford) has been a vocal critic of the committee’s elimination, arguing in a 2016 op-ed that silencing the state’s efficiency experts was counterproductive to achieving a more streamlined government.  

Calling the committee’s reports “data-driven,” Mushinsky argued that they were “not afraid to shine a light on government inefficiency.”  She suggested that the move to disband the PRI Committee was motivated by certain lawmakers’ desires to diminish scrutiny of state operations, emphasizing the committee’s role in highlighting governmental inefficiencies. 

In a 2017 interview, Mushinsky pointed out that the “rush to avoid tough budget choices has led the legislature to make some choices that are penny wise and pound foolish, citing PRI staff’s recommendations that saved the state over $200 million between 2010 and 2011.  

Despite these benefits, a similar proposal to reinstate the committee last year was stalled due to fiscal concerns, with an estimated yearly staffing cost of $1.6 million by the Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA). 

In written testimony, Wyatt Bosworth, Associate Council for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA), made a strong case for the importance of enhancing government efficiency, highlighting that “for more than 40 years, PRI was an incredibly useful office” responsible for “making changes to improve state agency programs including elimination.” 

Bosworth also noted, “With Connecticut finally in a stable fiscal condition, it is time to bring back this important legislative tool to ensure government is running as effectively, and as efficiently, as possible.” 

Furthermore, House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora (R-North Branford) wrote the PRI Committee is “much better equipped to handle wide-ranging investigations and analysis of government programs” compared to other less effective groups and studies, highlighting its importance in maintaining governmental oversight and efficiency. 

At the hearing, the Office of State Ethics (OSE) championed increased transparency in government dealings, advocating for a bill that extends the open and public process requirements to contracts with quasi-public agencies. Currently, these restrictions apply exclusively to public officials, state employees, their immediate families, or associated businesses. 

OSE’s Executive Director Peter Lewandowski highlighted this requirement presently does not apply to contracts with quasi-public agencies even though they “engage in extensive contracting and substantial fiscal and policy impact on the state.” 

He argued that extending these requirements would make the contracting process more transparent for both the public and private sectors, ensuring fairness and openness when quasi-public agencies award contracts to public officials or state employees.  

Kevin Dillion of the Connecticut Airport Authority (CAA), a quasi-public agency, echoed support for the bill, calling it a “reasonable commonsense proposal.” 

Lewandowski also backed another bill aiming to update the Code of Ethics for Public Officials. This revision would include the outside employers of public officials or state employees or their spouses in the conflict-of-interest statutes, covering both substantial and potential conflicts. 

The proposal also outlines that elected officials facing a conflict involving their other employer or their spouse’s employer must either recuse themselves or submit a signed written statement under penalty of false statement. 

“This adjustment will seldom impact General Assembly members,” Lewandowski noted, “except in cases dealing with legislation exclusively concerning their outside employment, which is an infrequent occurrence.” 

This clarification implies that lawmakers with additional roles, such as union leaders, could still participate in voting on matters like pay raises and bonuses benefiting their members. 

Additionally, Lewandowski supports a bill extending the requirement to file financial interest statements to members of Executive Department boards, commissions, committees, or councils, addressing potential conflicts arising from the capability to allocate taxpayer funds. 

The GAE’s consideration of these bills that enhance state government transparency is a commendable development. The potential adoption of these bills signifies a promising step towards establishing a government that is not only more open and efficient but also adheres to higher ethical standards. This is particularly beneficial for the people of Connecticut as it makes the government more accountable, efficient and trustworthy. 

Meghan Portfolio

Meghan worked in the private sector for two decades in various roles in management, sales, and project management. She was an intern on a presidential campaign and field organizer in a governor’s race. Meghan, a Connecticut native, joined Yankee Institute in 2019 as the Development Manager. After two years with Yankee, she has moved into the policy space as Yankee’s Manager of Research and Analysis. When she isn’t keeping up with local and current news, she enjoys running–having completed seven marathons–and reading her way through Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.

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