HARTFORD, CT – Republican lawmakers are tired of waiting for Gov. Ned Lamont’s proposal to fix some of Connecticut’s beleaguered quasi-public agencies so they’re introducing their own legislation.
This past summer Lamont promised investigations into the Connecticut Port Authority and the Connecticut Lottery Corporation in addition to an “intrusive” look at the other 11 quasi-public agencies.
Paul Mounds Jr., Lamont’s chief operating officer, who was put in charge of handling the investigations, said he meets with every quasi-public agency, every month to get an update on their operations and ensure their goals align with the administration. However, he hasn’t shared any of that information or progress with legislators.
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said the inaction has led to his caucus putting forward legislative proposals that seek to limit the authority of the quasi-public agencies.
One of the proposals would eliminate the carve-out for quasi-public agencies that allows contracts with immediate family members. Another would require the submission of separation agreements and contracts with an annual cost of $50,000 or a duration of five years to the Attorney General’s office for review before an agreement is signed.
Over the past few years quasi-public agencies have made large severance payments to top employees at the Connecticut Lottery Corporation, Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, Access Health CT and the Connecticut Green Bank.
Fasano said almost all the quasi-public agencies over the past three or four years have had issues “that have caused the public to question what they’re doing.”
Fasano said the Lamont administration doesn’t seem to be taking the issue seriously because in the middle of these discussions they created a new quasi-public agency, the Municipal Redevelopment Authority. Lamont recently introduced legislation that suggested giving $45 million to this new agency that has no members, no appointees, and no rules.
“We need to have control over these quasi’s,” Fasano said. “And another quasi should not be formed and no money should be given to the quasi’s until and unless we have in place those limitations of power that restrict the use of taxpayer money.”
Mounds said the Municipal Redevelopment Authority will be housed in the Capital Region Development Authority, which oversees development in Hartford. It is one of the state’s 13 quasi-public agencies. But it’s unclear how housing the new organization inside an existing quasi-public agency improves its existence.
“Connecticut does not have the best reputation when it comes to establishing and managing quasi-public agencies. Haven’t we learned from our mistakes?,” Fasano said.
Mounds said no previous administration spoke on a monthly basis with quasi-public agencies.
The latest problems with quasi-public agencies came to light more than six months ago when issues surfaced from an audit of the Port Authority.
The first of the two state audits pointed out that the Port Authority was operating without any financial controls. For example, in March 2017, the CPA opened bank accounts but did not maintain an accounting system for the accounts.
The second audit released on Oct. 31 criticized the CPA for excessive legal, travel and meal expenses.
Mounds credited Lamont with taking action by asking board members to step down and installing David Kooris, who was then deputy commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, to take over the board to make sure they were able to ink an agreement regarding New London Harbor and State Pier.
The deal approved Tuesday by the Port Authority board of directors finalizes a $157 million agreement between Orsted and Eversource to use the pier to accommodate heavy-lift cargo to meet the needs of the offshore wind industry.
Before the deal was announced Tuesday, Fasano said the Lamont administration had seemed open to the idea of a bipartisan effort to improve quasi-public operations, but it hasn’t come to fruition.
Lamont said Mounds has been the point person to work with legislative leadership on improving quasi-public agencies and developing “rules and regs” for them to follow.
Mounds said moving forward they will be asking quasi-public agencies to modify their bylaws by April 1.
“It’s a process that’s been ongoing,” Mounds said.
In the meantime, the administration is requiring all quasi-public agencies to send them quarterly financial reports. They also plan to subject them to mandatory audits, which in the past have been voluntary.
Get Rid of Quasi-Public Agencies?
Neither Lamont nor Fasano believes getting rid of quasi-public agencies is the solution.
Fasano said he thinks Connecticut needs quasi-public agencies and all were created with good intentions, but “they shouldn’t work in the dark shadows.”
“There should be total transparency because essentially that’s taxpayer money being used,” he added.
Lamont said the quasi-public agencies give the state room to put together partnerships like they did with the New London Harbor and State Pier deal.
“The quasi’s are innovative and nimble in terms of what we’ve got to do,” Lamont added. “But we’ve got some problems with quasi’s … and we’re addressing that.”