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.

 

To Avoid A Constitutional Problem, The Legislature Should Vote On Union Contracts

Last year I wrote at length about a state legislative process that allows collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) with state employees to become law without legislators actually voting to approve the agreements. Under the “deemed approved” process, a CBA is presented to the legislature for consideration. If the legislature does not reject the CBA in thirty days, it becomes law.

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Emoluments, Pension Deals And More On The Legal Eagle Show

I had the pleasure of joining Marcia Chambers today on Legal Eagle, her weekly radio show on WNHH, the New Haven Independent’s affiliated radio station.  We discussed a wide range of topics, including the recent arrest of a reporter in New Haven for photographing a potential crime scene, President-Elect Donald Trump’s impending violations of the Emoluments Clause of the United States Constitution, and a potential constitutional problem with a recent deal between the Malloy administration and public employee unions to fix the state pension system.  Click here to listen to the show on SoundCloud.

Kudos to Ted Kennedy, Jr.

In an interview with the New Haven Independent’s Marcia Chambers, State Senator Ted Kennedy, Jr. (D-Branford) offers some excellent thoughts on ways to reform the budget-making process in Connecticut.  In particular, he challenges the use of so-called “e-cert” procedures for passing the budget, which make it impossible for rank-and-file legislators to thoughtfully consider a budget before they are required to vote on it.

I, along with many other folks, have been complaining about misuse of the e-cert process for many years.  I’m glad Senator Kennedy is speaking up on this issue.

State Whittles Away At The Watchdog Agencies

In her op-ed in The CT Mirror, State Representative Mary Mushinsky (D-Wallingford) writes about an unanticipated, end-of-the-legislative-session, 50% cut to the personnel budget of the General Assembly’s Office of Program Review and Investigations.  “The Office of Program Review and Investigations is the nonpartisan staff office that supports the oversight work of the bipartisan Legislative Program Review and Investigations Committee. At the direction of the committee, PRI staff examines state programs and systems to determine efficiency, effectiveness, compliance with legislative purposes, and whether corrective actions, modification, or elimination are necessary.”

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Happy Birthday CTNewsJunkie!

Some people can’t get started in the morning without a cup of coffee. I can’t get started without reading CTNewsJunkie, the fantastic online news site that covers Connecticut state politics, public policy, the courts and our health care system.

CTNewsJunkie turns 11 this summer. That is a remarkable achievement for an online news site these days. It is an achievement that would not have been possible but for the extraordinary efforts of Editor-in-Chief Christine Stuart and business manager Doug Hardy (who just happens to be Christine’s husband).

Since 2006, when she took over the reigns from founding editor Dan Levine, Christine Stuart has made CTNewsJunkie a force to be reckoned with. She is indefatigable in her pursuit of a story and in her desire to ensure that the public has the facts it needs to keep a watchful eye on our government.

As a good government advocate, I believe that our democratic institutions function best when they know they are being watched. So, as traditional newspapers continue to shed jobs due to declining ad revenues, sites like CTNewsJunkie will become increasingly important to the continued success of our nation’s great democratic experiment.

So, happy 11th birthday to CTNewsJunkie, here’s to many more birthdays, and please, dear readers, show your support for CTNewsJunkie by making a donation today.