Toni Harp’s election as New Haven mayor will leave vacant the Senate chair of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee, a powerful position that she has held for more than a decade.
The Appropriations Committee is one of the legislature’s two budget-writing panels. It determines how the state spends taxpayer dollars. Harp is serving her sixth consecutive term as the committee’s Senate chairwoman. Together with the House chairwoman and Rep. Toni Walker, a fellow New Haven resident, the “two Tonis” have had broad influence on recent state budgets.
However, with Harp’s election Tuesday night as mayor of New Haven, someone else will be taking the reins of the Appropriations Committee.
State law permits a person to serve as both the chief executive of a municipality and a state lawmaker. Cathy Osten, for instance, is first selectwoman of Sprague and also serves as that district’s state senator. However, New Haven’s charter prohibits its mayor from holding other public office. So Harp, who did not return calls for comment on this story, will need to resign the seat when she is sworn in as mayor in January.
Who fills her seat in the state senate chamber will be up to New Haven voters in a February election. Committee chair assignments on the other hand are up to legislative leaders.
Adam Joseph, a spokesman for Senate President Donald Williams, said no decision has been made regarding who will take over the committee leadership position if Harp steps down.
“Senator Harp brought dedication, wisdom and foresight as co-chair of the Appropriations Committee. She will leave large shoes to fill. It is an important job and Senator Williams has not yet made a decision,” Joseph said.
West Hartford Democrat Sen. Beth Bye said Wednesday that she is interested in the position.
“I certainly would like the job but there are a lot of qualified people. It’s a decision that is really up to Don [Williams, president the senate],” she said.
Bye, who currently serves as co-chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee, has long been an advocate of increased access to early childhood education. She said how much the state chooses to spend on programs is a reflection of its priorities.
“I think [the Appropriation Committee] is important because that’s where decisions are made about where we’re spending money,” she said. “The budget is an expression of your policy.”
Bye noted that seniority is a valued commodity in the senate, and although she would welcome the position, others in the Senate Democratic Caucus likely have more seniority.
Waterbury Democrat Sen. Joan Hartley, who is in her seventh term, currently serves as the committee’s vice-chairwoman. However, Hartley seems unlikely to be a leadership pick to head the Appropriations Committee. She was one of three Senate Democrats to join Republicans in voting against the two-year state budget passed in June.
Democratic Senators Bob Duff, Terry Gerratana, and Andrew Maynard also currently serve on the Appropriations Committee. All three voted in support of the state budget.