(Updated 7:40) Gov. Dannel P. Malloy informed legislative leaders Friday that he wants to hit the “pause” button and transfer operation of the Old State House back to the Office of Legislative Management.
As part of the 2017 budget Malloy signed into law, the responsibility of the Old State House, which for 83 years housed Connecticut’s government, was transferred from the Office of Legislative Management to the Department of Environmental Protection.
The building has been closed since July 1 because the $400,000 DEEP received for the building wasn’t enough to maintain it, its educational programming, and its collections. DEEP has said it was going to dismantle the collections to the dismay of historians.
During an interview last week on WNPR, State Historian Walter Woodard called for addressing the state’s economic difficulties “in a thoughtful manner that’ll keep this really vital institution serving the public.”
In his Friday letter, Malloy said operation of the building has “proven to be more costly than was projected” when the budget was adopted.
He said new estimates show that it costs at least $902,000 to operate, provide security, and educational programming. While it’s unclear where they will find the additional money to operate the Old State House, “I believe that abandoning the transfer of the Old State House from OLM to DEEP is the most logical and least disruptive course of action,” Malloy wrote.
He said it would avoid the need to permanently close the building and return its valuable paintings and artifacts to their owners. The building will remain closed for now because there is no money for educational programming and tours.
Malloy said based on discussions with legislative leaders they have agreed to hit the “pause” button and the Office of Legislative Management will maintain responsibility for the building and its contents until new alternatives can be discussed during the 2017 legislative session.
“Pausing was the right thing to do,” Malloy said.
In the meantime, Malloy directed DEEP to transfer the $400,000 it was given to manage the Old State House back to the Office of Legislative Management.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said he thinks the governor “correctly assessed the situation,” and that the measure is “quite reasonable.”
Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, agreed.
“The Old State House is obviously an important building and an important part of Connecticut’s history—that’s why the General Assembly took charge of operating it nearly a decade ago when the City of Hartford could no longer afford to maintain it,” Duff said. “This transfer of funds from the executive branch back to the legislative branch will allow us to maintain security at the building, and therefore maintain the repository of valuable and donated artworks there, while we discuss a new operating plan with DEEP and the Office of legislative Management.”
However, House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, who is not seeking re-election, had a different take.
““I’m confused,” Sharkey said. “The governor understood that DEEP was assigned responsibility for the Old State House in the budget he signed into law last June. I assume the governor directed his agency to follow the new law beginning July 1. That’s why DEEP’s announcement that they simply don’t want the responsibility and are shutting down the Old State House seems not only petulant, but illegal. Nonetheless, the legislature will certainly sit down with the governor’s office to try to resolve this situation, but it’s unfortunate that the administration’s fumbling of the issue has now created a political football.”
Chris McClure, a spokesman for Malloy, said if Sharkey is confused then it’s by choice.
“Members of his own caucus have been involved in discussions around this issue when he himself has not,” McClure said. “Before chiming in, the Speaker may have wanted to ask for a meeting himself, or talk to his own caucus. And before using sports analogies in the future, the Speaker may want to first figure out where the game is being played and whether his own team was on the field.”
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, agreed with Sharkey.
“What was passed in the budget assigns this responsibility to DEEP and any decision to change that needs to be made by legislative leadership – both Democrats and Republicans,” Fasano said. “To ignore the law and transfer the money seems questionable.”