Christine Stuart file photo
Gov. M. Jodi Rell (Christine Stuart file photo)

Before leaving to spend Thanksgiving in Colorado Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced Wednesday afternoon that she would be calling the General Assembly back Dec. 15 to vote on her deficit mitigation plan and fix the state’s fledgling campaign finance law.

In August a federal judge decided that Connecticut’s 2005 public campaign finance law was unconstitutional because it treated third-party and petitioning candidates differently than candidates from the two major parties. And while the legislature has talked about making changes many are worried those changes won’t come soon enough to save the Citizens Election Program.

“There are already a number of candidates for governor and the legislature for the 2010 election who are campaigning and raising money under the public financing system,” Rell said in a press release Wednesday. “But because of the court ruling, they are operating under a cloud of uncertainty.”

Even though Rell herself is not seeking another term she wants to make sure the candidates that are running don’t have to wait for the state to take action.

What concerns lawmakers the most is a provision in the law that says on April 15, or if the decision to delay enforcement of the lower court’s ruling is lifted, the fundraising system will revert back to the way it was in 2005 within 168 hours, or seven days.

“These candidates should not have to wait for an appeals court decision, which we may or may not win, and have the rules totally changed for them mid-stream,” Rell said.

The state appealed the federal judge’s decision and is still waiting for an update on the case from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

There’s a provision in the law that says on April 15 or if the decision to delay enforcement of the lower court’s ruling is lifted, the fundraising system will revert back to the way it was in 2005 within 168 hours, or seven days.

Rell’s proposal to the legislature amends the Citizens Election Program in accordance with the federal judge’s ruling. Rell’s proposal would eliminate additional qualifying requirements for minor-party and petitioning candidates, provide grants in the same amounts to all candidates, reduce the size of the grants, and delay the increase in the grant amounts until 2014.

Rep. James Spallone, D-Essex, said he thinks the most prudent thing to do would be to eliminate the reversion clause or what many have referred to as the “time bomb,” which returns the fundraising system back to the way it was before 2005. 

By eliminating the reversion clause it gives the legislature time to react properly to a decision by the Appeals Court, Spallone said. “I think its really important not to take guidance from one trial judge.”

Either the Second Circuit can reverse the lower court’s decision, uphold it, or reverse it in part or uphold it in part. By repealing simply the reversion clause it gives “us time to react properly,” Spallone said.

That being said he welcomed the governor’s interest in working together on the issue.

Karen Hobert Flynn, vice president for state operations at Common Cause, applauded Rell’s leadership for putting a proposal on the table. She said it’s a great starting point.

“We have seen the outline of the Governor’s proposal and think that is a good proposal,” Hobert Flynn and Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause Connecticut said in a statement. “In addition, we understand that there are legislators who are crafting possible language to ensure the viability of the program.”

Hobert Flynn is worried about the governor’s proposal to take $12 million from the Citizens Election Fund and deposit it into the General Fund. “We also need to make sure there’s adequate resources for the program to continue,” she said.

She also predicts that lawmakers will be concerned about the money the program gives to candidates running against self-funded candidates. Ned Lamont on the Democratic side and Tom Foley on the Republican side could self-fund their campaigns for governor.

Budget Mitigation

Rell’s budget mitigation plan, which essentially asks the legislature to make about $200 million in spending cuts and assumes the sales tax reduction won’t take place saving the state $129.5 million in revenues, makes unpopular cuts to nursing homes, cities and towns, and hospitals.

Rell announced Wednesday that she would use her authority to cut an additional $36 million and that efforts to increase efficiency in the executive branch would save an extra $16 million. The rest of the $337 million hole Rell seeks to close is made up by the transfer of $53 million from dedicated accounts back to the General Fund.

“Failure to swiftly address this budget shortfall will only lead us into a deeper hole – one that we cannot afford to close by borrowing more or raising taxes again,” Rell said Wednesday in a press release. “These are painful cuts, to be sure, but the Legislature must make them now to ensure that Connecticut returns to solid financial footing.”

Democrats were still examining the plan released Tuesday by Rell and were not quite ready to comment on what, if anything, they would seek to revise.

Larry Perosino, spokesman for several Democratic lawmakers in the House, said House Speaker Chris Donovan will be talking to his caucus members after the holiday.