Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, requested a legal opinion from the attorney general Tuesday on the legality of the Malloy administration’s plan to cut the budgets of autonomous watchdog agencies.
The Office of State Ethics, State Elections Enforcement Commission and Freedom of Information Commission challenged the administration’s power to make the cuts, but they are pursuing talks with the administration rather seeking their own legal opinion.
Ben Barnes, who oversees the budget as the secretary of policy and management, said he is meeting Friday with the agency heads to discuss his intention to impose a mid-year budget cut of about $180,000, a small piece of a larger effort to balance the budget.
In the budget adopted for the fiscal year that began July 1, the legislature authorized the administration to cut $68.8 million from the $20 billion state budget. The administration is demanding $42,549 from the Office of State Ethics, $44,442 from the Freedom of Information Commission, and $96,032 from the State Elections Enforcement Commission.
The agencies say the cuts would violate a law the legislature passed in 2004 to bar Gov. John G. Rowland from cutting their budgets while two of the three agencies were investigating him. He resigned that year while facing an impeachment inquiry.
“I believe that Gov. Malloy was wrong to cut from the state’s watchdog agencies. And even if the governor could make an argument that his cuts were legal, I believe they still should not have been made,” Fasano said Tuesday. “These cuts further weaken the public trust in government. Laws protecting these three watchdog agencies were put in place after a governor, while under federal investigation, tried to cut the budgets of the agencies responsible for ensuring that state officials follow the law.”
He noted that the U.S. attorney’s office is investigating the propriety of fundraising by the Democratic Party in support of Malloy’s re-election in 2014, and he called the budget cuts ill-timed.
The attorney general’s office had no comment on the request.