A missing phrase in the celebrated ‘clean contracting’ bill has caused a political train wreck at the Capitol. Democratic leaders and administration officials are accusing each other of welshing on a deal on how the state should- or shouldn’t- privatize services. By the end of the first day of special session Thursday, the two sides still have radically different ideas about just what they had agreed to, and about what to do next.
In the last days of regular session, legislators overwhelmingly passed a contracting reform bill. Politicos congratulated themselves for taking steps to clean up the process so tainted by former Gov. John Rowland and his cohorts.But those positive sentiments abruptly ended this week, as legislative leaders and administration officials accused each other of welching on a deal regarding certain parts of the bill which govern privatization of state services.State employee unions fiercely oppose privatization, in part because it shunts work away from their members, and thus shrinks their clout. They also argue it leads to poor services, creates a greater potential for public corruption and ultimately higher costs for taxpayers. So labor lobbyists pushed hard for protections in the contracting bill. The legislation establishes a four year moratorium on privatization, and sets up a process by which the state must conduct a strict cost-benefit analysis when it wants to privatize services. The controversy surrounds what, exactly, counts as privatization. The unions want every privatization idea subject to the cost-benefit analysis, even if it won’t necessarily lead to a layoff. According to state Sen. Donald DeFronzo (D-New Britain), co-chairman of the Government Administration and Elections Committee, he had negotiated such an agreement with M. Lisa Moody, the governor’s chief of staff, over the Memorial Day weekend.DeFronzo has a copy of an e-mail, which he shared with ctnewsjunkie.com, sent from an attorney at the Department of Public Works that appears to sign off on this broad language supported by the unions. However, when attorneys in the nonpartisan Legislative Commissioner’s Office (LCO) actually drafted the bill, its language applied the cost-benefit analysis only to decisions that lead to layoffs. The unions believe that by limiting the scope only to layoff situations, the state could decide to privatize some new service and be exempt from scrutiny. “This doesn’t reform contracting,” said Dennis O’Neill, legislative coordinator for AFSCME Council 4.From DeFronzo’s point of view, the LCO language was an honest mistake that didn’t reflect the deal the two sides had struck.“Sometimes when you’re negotiating agreements, the language doesn’t come out quite as envisioned, and you rely on the good faith of the parties to get it fixed,” DeFronzo said. “That’s exactly what’s not happening in this case.”Other Side of the StoryWhen first contacted about the issue, gubernatorial spokesman Dennis Schain said the language that made it into the bill was not what the administration had negotiated with DeFronzo. However, Schain later called to amend his statement, saying the two sides had different views of the deal. Finally, the governor’s office made DPW Commissioner Jim Fleming available to give ctnewsjunkie.com the administration’s clear position on the controversy, and it is very different than DeFronzo’s perception.Moody and DeFronzo only discussed general concepts, Fleming said, while the administration’s final OK on the bill rested with him. “The only person who can sign off on language would be me,” he said. And Fleming only signed off on the version LCO had drafted, not any other, he said- certainly not on the language the unions prefer.“That bill, as it stands, is probably the most far reaching legislation in this country in terms of protecting the rights of state employees when the state decides to privatize a service,” he said, adding, “The unions should be very satisfied with it.“Asked about DeFronzo’s e-mail from the DPW attorney signing off on the union’s language, Fleming said he hadn’t seen it. However, Fleming said the unions had four days to raise the issue between June 1- when he signed off- and when the state Senate passed the bill. No one did. “They should have addressed it then, not when it already passed two chambers and is sitting on the governor’s desk,” the commissioner said. DeFronzo said no one on his side noticed the LCO language. From Fleming’s perspective, the unions are pressuring DeFronzo to make one extra, greedy reach into the till.Leadership HeadacheDemocratic leaders met with gubernatorial budget chief Robert Genuario this week to negotiate the final budget implementer bill. Senate President Donald Williams brought up the privatization deal, according to multiple Democratic sources familiar with negotiations. However, Genuario insisted that no such deal existed. Since no one on the Democratic side had first hand knowledge of DeFronzo’s conversations, they did not push to have a language change inserted into the implementer, sources said, but decided to wait and contact DeFronzo.However, when the implementer hit the floor of the House of Representatives Thursday night, state Rep. Chris Caruso (D-Bridgeport), DeFronzo’s co-chairman, threatened to run an amendment incorporating the union language. Caruso said House Speaker James Amann (D-Milford) asked him not to, with the speaker promising to work on the problem. That means an amendment might be placed on another bill during the special session.Though Schain had first said legislative leaders should change the language if they wished, Fleming later indicated the administration opposed any change. “I would have great difficulty with that,” Fleming said. Would Fleming urge the governor to veto any bill that contained the union language?“I don’t know yet,” he responded. “I’d have to see exactly what it said.”