HARTFORD, CT — Even though an overwhelming number of lawmakers supported the concept, Attorney General William Tong said allowing the legislature to wrest control of the Bond Commission away from the executive branch would violate Connecticut’s constitution.
In an opinion requested by Gov. Ned Lamont, Tong said “it is highly likely that a Connecticut court, if presented with the issue, would conclude that the provisions of the Proposed Bill violates the Connecticut Constitution.”
Since the attorney general’s job is to defend the constitutionality of state laws “this office historically has been hesitant to offer opinions on the constitutionality of legislation except where the statute is ‘unquestionably unconstitutional on its face’,” Tong noted in a footnote.
Tong issued his opinion Friday.
Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, proposed the legislation Tong said was unconstitutional and it passed the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee 46-4 earlier this month.
Under the proposal, the Senate President and House Speaker would be in charge of the Bond Commission, which oversees all the borrowing for infrastructure projects. The leaders from both parties would replace members of the executive branch on the 10-member board, which is currently chaired by Lamont. The Office of Fiscal Analysis would staff the commission, which is currently staffed by the Office of Policy and Management.
Tong said that the Connecticut Constitution allows for some sharing of power, but does not condone giving over all the power to one branch of government.
“Although the Connecticut Constitution allows for flexibility in the exercise of the separate functions of government, the Proposed Bill would go too far. It would completely oust the executive branch from its role in executing the laws related to bond authorizations. Because the execution of the laws is the principle function of the executive branch, this would constitute a ‘significant interference with the orderly conduct of the essential functions of another branch’,” Tong wrote.
He said already the legislature has the power to authorize specific bonds for specific projects, which the governor would then have to sign off on. He said that’s how things happened before the Bond Commission was created in the 1950s.
Fonfara said he doesn’t agree with the opinion.
“The way we proposed it is one way. There are several ways in which we can ultimately have an outcome where the legislature has a much greater role in capital investment in Connecticut,” Fonfara said. “We’ve ceded enormous authority to the executive.”
He said the 46-4 vote in committee is representative of the desire to shift the balance.
The Lamont administration praised Tong’s opinion.
“We appreciate the AG’s thoughtful analysis and fully concur with his conclusion that the proposal is likely unconstitutional on multiple grounds,” Maribel La Luz, a spokeswoman for Lamont, wrote in an email.