HARTFORD, CT —It was considered a small and necessary change to current statute by state Comptroller Kevin Lembo, but after he pointed to Senate Republicans as the reason the legislation died, the Republicans are pushing back
In a press release Tuesday, Lembo, who is also exploring a run for governor, accused Senate Republicans of killing a bill that would have changed a state employee charitable giving operation his office manages. The bill essentially revamped the administrative structure for the Connecticut State Employees Campaign for Charitable Giving, which oversees payroll deductions made to charitable organizations on behalf of state employees.
“This is politics at its worst – killing a charitable campaign that delivers millions of dollars to protect victims of domestic violence, children with special needs and many others at no cost to taxpayers,” Lembo said. “I urge the legislature, during its special session, to revive this essential charitable program for the sake of hundreds of charities, the people they help, and the economic impact associated with the work that these charities do.”
Deputy Senate President Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, fired back at Lembo’s accusation laying blame at the feet of Senate Republicans.
“I understand the Comptroller is running for governor and is trying to make political points any way he can. But in this situation, his accusations are flat out wrong,” Witkos said. “This legislation was on the Senate calendar since May 11 and it not being called had nothing to do with Senate Republicans.”
The legislation, according to Senate Republican President Len Fasano, was consentable as long as they were able to adopt a Republican amendment. It could have gone back down to the House, which approved it unanimously on May 9, for approval with the new amendment.
Fasano said it’s not his fault Senate Democrats waited until the last day of the legislative session to move forward with the bill.
Lembo said his staff was told the bill was no longer consentable after questions from Senate Republicans.
A Republican amendment that was never called in the Senate would have capped the administrative fee for the charitable giving program from 15 percent to 10 percent.
“I believe it is essential that we establish greater accountability and efficiency to this program – which is why my legislation proposed a cap on administrative fees – because there is currently no cap whatsoever,” Lembo said. “Now that Senate Republicans blocked this legislation, there is not only zero cap on administrative fees, but the entire program is in jeopardy. Facts matter.”
Fasano said if this bill was so important to Lembo then he should have called his cell phone and made an argument. Fasano said he didn’t see Lembo or his staff push for the legislation.
“These Senate Republicans knew that this bill was essential to the survival of this charitable program – but they proceeded anyway,” Lembo said.
Fasano said that’s not an argument Lembo conveyed in any conversation with him. He said he can’t even recall it being a topic of discussion when the two met back in February.
However, Lembo believes there’s more of a backstory to the death of the legislation.
Earlier this year, Lembo announced that the American Family Association will no longer be an option as a charitable payroll deduction for state employees.
Lembo had asked the Mississippi-based group that is known for its anti-gay and anti-transgender boycotts of businesses for information regarding its non-discrimination policy and the group responded by asking its members to contact Lembo for attacking their group’s Biblical beliefs and what they saw as his attempt to diminish those beliefs by asking for information about discrimination.
The group is no longer on the approved list of charities for payroll deductions.
Lembo believes some Republicans who sympathize with the beliefs of that group helped defeat the bill, but Fasano and Witkos dismiss that as Lembo’s attempt to politicize the issue.
“I wish he would have reached out to me directly about the value of working together on this issue instead of wrongly placing blame on my caucus after his legislation did not move forward,” Witkos said.