Democracy Dies In Darkness

For nearly two decades, the Connecticut Public Affairs Network (CPAN) has operated CT-N, Connecticut’ s version of C-SPAN, providing neutral, unbiased coverage of all three co-equal branches of Connecticut state government.  Now, due to an abject failure of leadership in the General Assembly, CT-N may shut down.  At a time when it is more important than ever to keep the light shining on the operations of state government–which just negotiated a two-year, $41.3 billion budget in near total secrecy–leadership in the General Assembly wants to turn the lights off.

Leadership argues that the state is in a fiscal crunch and that CT-N can’t be spared when it comes to budget cuts.  The first part of the argument is absolutely correct, but the second part is political rhetoric intended to mask the true purpose behind the destructive cut in CT-N funding: wresting editorial control of CT-N away from CPAN and turning CT-N into nothing more than a 21st century equivalent of traditional legislative franking privileges.  CT-N should not be reduced to the propaganda arm of the General Assembly.

Open government advocates, of which I am one, fully appreciate the state’s fiscal situation.  That is why we didn’t resist the General Assembly’s original proposal, set forth in a request for proposal last spring, to reduce funding for CT-N from $2.7 million to $2.4 million annually.  But the budget passed last week calls for a 65% cut in CT-N’s funding, making continued operated of the invaluable network virtually impossible.

CT-N isn’t dead yet.  To their great credit, Governor Dannel Malloy and Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman have thrown CT-N a lifeline, offering $400,000 to help keep the network operating.  In a letter to legislative leaders, Malloy and Wyman wrote today:

We have read with considerable and growing alarm about the end of coverage of state government by CT-N.

Of course, we know well that the state’s fiscal position means that everything we do must be scrutinized and curtailed in order to live within our means. That is happening in every state agency. But just as we have worked together in recent years to accomplish budget reductions without altogether eliminating important services, so should we collectively find a way to balance the budget without eliminating video coverage and archiving of important state civic events, including legislative sessions, committee meetings, public hearings, board and commission meetings, announcements from the executive branch, arguments before the State Supreme Court, and the like. If in fact the limited resources that are available under the budget — $1.2 million per year — are not enough to operate CT-N on some reasonable basis, we should reconsider how much we will make available.

We are also troubled that matters of editorial liberty and coverage of events other than the legislature may have played some role in the failure to come to a new agreement. The operator of CT-N should cover whatever is of interest to the public, and that should clearly include executive or judicial branch activities where they deem appropriate.

 

Fellow citizens of Connecticut, I urge you to contact your state representative and senator and tell them that they need to restore funding to CT-N.  Tell the General Assembly that CT-N matters to you.  Tell them that legislating in the dark is unacceptable.  And remind them that the General Assembly is only one of three co-equal branches of government; CT-N must be allowed to continue to cover all three branches.

 

Our State Government: Three Branches Or A Seven-Headed Hydra?

Yesterday Governor Malloy vetoed a bill that would have given a legislative committee (as opposed to an Executive Branch agency) the ability to evaluate the state’s tax incentive program for recruiting and retaining businesses.  The bill had strong support from state Comptroller Kevin Lembo, who issued a statement calling the veto “deeply troubling” and a “terrible loss of transparency.”

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Gov’t Process Ain’t Sexy–But It Matters

The Hartford Business Journal has this op-ed, by yours truly, on the importance of reforming the rules governing decision-making processes in government. Money quote:

Debating the qualifications of candidates and the merits of their policy proposals is interesting, even fascinating. By contrast, process just ain’t very sexy. Yet, as an ingredient of good government, the rules that govern the decision-making process are every bit as important as personalities and policies. All three “P’s” — people, policy and process — matter.

Dem’s Budget Proposes 20% Cut To Watchdog Agency

As part of an effort to close a projected $930 million hole in the fiscal year 2017 budget (which starts July 1)–a hole that represents approximately 5% of the state’s $19.9 billion annual budget–state Democrats yesterday proposed a budget that would cut the Freedom of Information Commission’s budget by nearly 20%. 

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Legislation By Stealth

Thomas Edsall has this interesting article today in the NY Times about how certain business and political interests use stealth tactics–“furtiveness, slyness and deception–“to get legislation they want, but which would be difficult to achieve if they sought it openly and transparently.  He writes:

The propensity of partisan interests in legislative bodies to insert special interest provisions into unrelated legislation is ubiquitous and not the province of only the right or the left.

But there are some conclusions to be drawn from developments in both the North Carolina General Assembly and on Capitol Hill. The North Carolina case, in particular, demonstrates the crucial role the press and watchdog groups continue to play in countering secrecy — a service provided in this instance by the Raleigh News and Observer, the Charlotte Observer and the North Carolina Justice Center.

Malloy Budget Restores Watchdog Independence

Governor Dannel P. Malloy released an unusual second budget proposal yesterday, which seeks to close a $922 million deficit in the 2017 fiscal year.  Significantly,  like the budget the Appropriations Committee recently released, the governor’s budget proposes to “[e]stablish the State Elections Enforcement Commission, Office of State Ethics, and Freedom of Information Commission as Standalone Agencies.”  See Budget Proposal, p.9.  In other words, they would no longer be part of the Office of Governmental Accountability (OGA).

As I’ve explained in the past, the OGA was a good idea, but it has not worked out in practice.  Governor Malloy’s willingness to reevaluate the OGA experiment is a sign of true leadership, and the open government community should thank him for that.

 

Appropriations Committee Proposes Restoring Watchdog Independence

Yesterday the Appropriations Committee of the General Assembly voted on a major spending bill that would cut $570 million from the state budget, yet still falls over $300 million short of filling a $900 million deficit facing the state. (CT News Junkie, the CT Mirror and the Courant all have extensive stories on the bill.)

For open government advocates, there is a golden nugget buried in the bill, but also very troubling news.

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