Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Bye, Cassano vote to end secret expense accounts - press release

The following is a press release issued by the Senate Democrats' office in Hartford: 
HARTFORD – Three months after the uproar over a $25,000 annual, unvouchered expense account for former Board of Regents President Robert Kennedy, the Higher Education Committee today approved a bill which would eliminate such expense accounts and require state colleges and universities to document every expenditure by all employees. Those expenditures would then be open for public inspection under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

House Bill 6605, “At Act Concerning Transparency of Expenses,” passed the Higher Education Committee today on a unanimous and bipartisan ‘consent’ vote; it now heads to the floor of the House of Representatives for consideration. If passed and signed into law, the new prohibition would take effect beginning July 1.

“I’m as stunned today as I was three months ago when I found out about that account. I believe the words I originally used were ‘stunned’ and ‘speechless’,” said state Senator Beth Bye (D-West Hartford), who is Senate Chairman of the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee. “I vowed then we would fix this terrible practice. It’s unfair. It’s unfair to the public, it’s unfair to the elected officials who were unaware of and now have to deal with this ugliness, and it’s unfair to higher education employees who work hard for a modest income and who are tarred with the same brush.”

State Senator Steve Cassano (D-Manchester), who is Senate Vice-Chairman of the Higher Education Committee, concurred.

“I taught for nearly 30 years in the community college system. It would have been unheard of then – and completely unacceptable – for any president to have access to a pot of money like that with no accountability,” Sen. Cassano said. “I know times change, and everyone’s going after the best, but there have got to be limits on the perks that we offer people in addition to their exorbitant salaries. It’s insulting to taxpayers and quite frankly I was insulted to even hear about it. So we’re ending it.”

Last October, Kennedy resigned as president of the Board of Regents over the issue of unapproved salary raises. The details of his salary and compensation package came out later, and included “unvouchered” expenses (meaning no receipt was needed to claim the expense) ranging from interstate tolls of less and a dollar to $250 and $350 lunches for two.

Malloy's proposed changes to watchdog agencies

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's proposal to further consolidate state watchdog agencies - and shift oversight of their most crucial functions into his administration - could be facing a big roadblock in the state legislature's budget-writing panel, according to a Connecticut Mirror article.

Malloy is proposing combining staffs from the Freedom of Information Commission, the Elections Enforcement Commission and the Office Of State  Ethics, which currently have separate administrative, legal and advocacy functions even though they share some clerical staff.

Malloy's plan has been criticized as a way to undermine the role of government watchdog agencies, according to an article in The Day, and a former executive director and general counsel of the FOI Commission is blasting the plan.

What do you think? Should the agencies be combined under one office? Should the governor be able to cut money from watchdog agencies whenever he feels like it?