HARTFORD, CT — When the General Assembly created a 14-member commission to study Connecticut’s fiscal stability and gave it a three-month window in which to complete their mission, it didn’t provide any funding to get the job done.
It’s not unusual for the General Assembly to create volunteer task forces to study various issues, but never one this big.
Lawmakers have been anxiously awaiting the commission’s recommendations as they head into an election year with few good choices for how to deal with recurring budget deficits and a stagnant economy.
The commission, which is required by law to disband on March 1 after making its recommendations, has taken its charge so seriously that it has created a nonprofit organization to raise money to support its effort beyond that date.
Robert Patricelli, a retired healthcare entrepreneur and co-chair of the Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth, formed a 501c3 organization called Connecticut Rising, Inc. in November — a month before the commission started meeting.
It’s not clear how much money has been raised or who contributed to Connecticut Rising Inc. since the Internal Revenue Service only requires that information to be reported annually.
According to McDowell Jewett Communications, the public relations firm hired by the nonprofit, the other consultants being paid include McKinsey & Company, Millstein & Co., and Cain Associates.
Patricelli said in an interview in January that in forming the commission the legislature acknowledged that it needs help from the private sector “to help carry the water” and make what might be some unpopular recommendations.
“All of us need to lean in and find solutions to these problems,” Patricelli said. “Maybe it’s some kind of crisis and political cover that can make a difference this time around.”
Patricelli has said a lot of the suggestions for how to fix Connecticut’s budget problems have been made by previous commissions.
But he doesn’t want the recommendations of this commission to sit on a shelf collecting dust.
Connecticut Rising Inc. will be a vehicle Patricelli can use going forward to continue to push the legislature to adopt whatever recommendations the commission makes.
“I expect CT Rising to continue past March 1 as a platform for discussion, social media, research, and education, in furtherance of the proposals in the Commission report,” Patricelli said in an emailed statement.
Lawmakers who have been following the commission were surprised to learn of the existence of Connecticut Rising Inc.
“For people to have faith in the commission, it is imperative that its members conduct business in an open and transparent manner. In order to demonstrate that the commission is acting in good faith on behalf of the State of Connecticut, Mr. Patricelli and the commission members should release the names of Connecticut Rising’s donors and the amounts contributed,” Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said. “Embracing transparency by providing the names of donors and amounts will allow the public to know who is funding their efforts and determine whether the commission’s outcomes were preordained. If the commission fails to do so, it could call into question its entire work product and any recommendations it may make.”
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said there are many nonprofits in the state that exist on donations and push the issues they believe in. She said most of the commission members are heads of companies and are used to having the resources they need to get the job done.
The state, which is currently running a $244.6 million deficit, was unable to use public funds to help them in their effort so they got creative.
Rep. Lonnie Reed, D-Branford, who was instrumental in hooking the commission up with Millstein & Co., said it would have been “problematic” for the state to use public funds for this effort.
She said she’s eagerly awaiting the recommendations, which she expects to be substantive.
The commission has been criticized by the labor community, which until recently was left out of the conversation.
Lori Pelletier, president of the AFL-CIO, said the that the fix was in based on the fact that the Connecticut Business & Industry Association was already calling for the legislature to adopt the recommendations of the commission regarding “state pensions and collective bargaining.”
Patricelli told Pelletier last week that “we haven’t spent five seconds discussing whether Connecticut should be a right-to-work state and we’re not going to.”
He said he’s sure the statement by CBIA was well-meaning, but there are no recommendations that have been made yet by the commission.