Rell vetoes increasing grants for upcoming gubernatorial race

As promised, Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed state lawmakers’ effort to double to $6 million the general-election grants for gubernatorial candidates participating in the state’s public financing program.

In her veto message released this afternoon, she said she was “disappointed” that the legislature is attempting to increase spending in tough fiscal times.

“What is the legislature thinking,” she wrote, calling the increase an attempt to turn the state’s public finance system “into a welfare program for politicians.”

Rell’s veto comes one week before the party primaries, which will determine the general election lineup for the governor’s race.

In both the Republican and Democrat primaries there is a publicly financed candidate against a self-financed millionaire — so, the chances of a repeat scenario in the general election is high. Democrat Dan Malloy and Republican Michael Fedele are participating in the Citizens’ Election Program. Financing their campaigns themselves is Democrat Ned Lamont and Republican Tom Foley.

Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said he has a feeling partisan politics were at play in Rell’s veto.

“It seems to me it’s an effort to secure a partisan advantage,” he said, noting that the Republican front-runner is self-financed and not dependent on public financing.

The current law provides supplemental grants to the publicly financed candidates when they face a high-spending opponent. However, a recent federal appeals court ruled matching grants unconstitutional.

As a result, state lawmakers voted Friday — without veto-proof margins — to double the base grants for governor to $6 million.

The bill passed in the Senate 23-12, one vote shy of a veto-proof majority. Sen. Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury, was absent for the vote. The House voted 75-45, well short of the 101 votes needed to override a veto. However, 31 representative were not present for the vote.

Looney said the Senate will convene as soon as possible to attempt to override the governor’s veto.

“We will vote to override the governor’s veto,” he said, adding that it remains to be seen if that will be this week and before next week’s primary.

However, whether the House has the additional 26 votes needed to override the governor remains to be seen. There were 31 absent Representatives for the 10:30 p.m. Friday vote, 21 of them are Democrats. There were 18 Democrats who were present and voted against the bill Friday.

House Speaker Christopher Donovan, D-Meriden, has vowed to at least try to gather the votes.

“We will come back to resolve this,” he said.

Responding to the governor’s veto, Malloy rejected Rell’s claim that increasing the grants would increase overall spending for the program.

“This bill contains no new spending, as the Governor very well knows. All it attempts to do is keep the playing field somewhat level between the very wealthy candidates who can spend whatever the want to spend… and the rest of us,” he said in an e-mailed statement.

The State Elections Enforcement Commission and the legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis both have reported that the current $43 million budgeted for the CEP could handle increasing the gubernatorial base grant.

State lawmakers must pass, and the governor must sign, changes to the Citizens’ Election Program or the whole program is at risk of being invalidated. The way the law is currently written, if one section of the law is ruled unconstitutional, the whole law is thrown out.