Health clinic bonding probe doesn’t hinge on the dollars

 

As federal authorities continue to ask why the legislature took the first step last spring toward giving $15 million to a health clinic chain, the answers likely don't lie within the state's books.

And that's not just because Community Health Center Inc. never received $15 million, or because the state never even took intermediate steps to release the money.

In fact, hundreds of millions of dollars in potential financing scheduled annually by lawmakers never get spent.

Barring new revelations, the investigation is more likely a probe into the intentions of the key players involved -- and not into what actually happened on the floor of the House or Senate.

At issue is a decision by the General Assembly to "authorize" $15 million for the clinics operated by Mark Masselli, a political supporter of then-House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden. Masselli and his wife gave $6,300 to Donovan's unsuccessful congressional campaign last year and also assisted in fundraising.

That $15 million bond "authorization" was one of dozens, totaling more than $3.5 billion, lawmakers adopted. Most of this potential funding is aimed at school construction, building programs at public colleges and universities, and transportation and sewage treatment improvements.

But the state also uses financing to pay for some community-based projects in lawmakers' home districts, something critics often refer to as "pork-barrel" spending.

There also is nothing unusual about government support for community health centers, which were created with government help beginning with the federal government's war on poverty in the 1960s and continuing through the passage of President Obama's Affordable Care Act.

Donovan, whose city of Meriden was served by one of Masselli's satellite clinics, also was a longtime supporter of various efforts to provide better access to health care for the poor and uninsured.

Investigators became interested, though, after learning that a legislative panel originally proposed one $15 million authorization for all health clinics to share. The final schedule of authorizations was amended to include the original $15 million pot, and a second, $15 million pool aimed solely at those clinics run by Masselli.

Still, while an authorization earmarked for a specific private entity isn't unheard of at the Capitol, it also is no guarantee the state ever will send a check.

These legislative "authorizations" are a menu prepared for the State Bond Commission -- a 10-member panel composed of the governor, his budget director, other constitutional officers and legislators. This group has sole authority to select from that menu and determine when -- or if -- state government will release funds. And the commission typically does pass over many items on that menu.

According to the legislature's nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis, more than $3.2 billion of the $3.5 billion in authorizations remain unapproved at this point.

And according to estimates from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration, only about $2.7 billion in authorizations actually will be approved, or "allocated," before this fiscal year ends June 30.

That means the funding for the Middletown clinic likely would be one tiny piece of a roughly $800 million pot of legislative proposals that never evolved into cash payments.

 

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