No More Rats In The Implementer Bill

The CT Mirror wrote the following in an informative article about the end of the legislative session in May 2014:

The end of every legislative session features a voluminous bill (or set of bills) known as the “implementer.” It contains the policy provisions needed to implement the state budget. And it’s the place where the party in power often stuffs other amendments — ranging from broad policy shifts that didn’t make it into other legislation to narrow changes meant to assist one group or town.

Unlike most other bills, implementers don’t go through legislative committees or public hearings. Some of the provisions in them may be ideas that made the rounds through the various committees. But others have received little or no public discussion until they appear in this bill, leading legislative staffers, lobbyists (and reporters) to scour the hundreds of pages to uncover the big and small changes being made.

People familiar with the legislative process have a name for things that are sneaked into implementer bills: “rats.” Rats are the antithesis of good governance. They undermine accountability, transparency and public confidence in government. Further, because they may not have been subject to the public hearing process, which can illuminate problems with proposed legislation, rats often lead to bad policy outcomes.

The solution to the rat problem lies in understanding the difference between the state budget as adopted and the implementer; they are not one in the same.

The state budget consists of appropriations (i.e., spending) and revenues (i.e., taxes, fees, etc.). The Appropriations Committee has cognizance of all matters relating to appropriations and the budgets of state agencies. The Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee has jurisdiction over all matters relating to finance, revenue, capital bonding, fees and taxation. These two committees, in conjunction with other committees and in consultation with the governor, develop the state budget. (Click here for a recent example of an Appropriations committee budget bill , and here for a recent Finance committee revenue bill.) The governor usually submits his or her own proposed budget for consideration as well.

Why is an implementer bill necessary if a state budget bill has already been adopted?  Basically, a budget bill is a collection of numbers (dollars) and line items.  Often, however, a budget does more than appropriate money to an existing program; a budget often requires changes to existing statutes, such as the creation of a new program or the elimination of a program. An implementer billchanges statutes to put into effect or ‘implement’ the provisions of the adopted state budget.”  (Click here for the 2015 implementer bill.)

With this background, I propose two possible solutions to the rat infestation problem in implementer bills. First, the Senate and the House should amend their rules to impose a strict relevance or “germaneness” requirement for provisions in an implementer bill. Such bills should contain only those provisions necessary to implement spending and revenue requirements of the state budget, as previously adopted. Every provision in an implementer bill should be directly traceable to a previously adopted bill. Implementer bills should not contain surprises.

Second, if the House and Senate refuse to amend their rules, governors should veto implementer bills containing rats.

I recognize that these solutions are politically problematic, to say the least. But I offer them in the hope that our elected representatives will consider them in the spirit of good governance, and that the people who elect those representatives will press them to adopt the solutions.

 

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