With the 2022 legislative session just weeks away, Republican lawmakers in Connecticut on Thursday called for their colleagues in the General Assembly to increase their oversight and control of billions of dollars that are intended to help the state fund transportation projects, counteract the opioid epidemic and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those three large pots of money include more than $5.3 billion Connecticut is set set to receive through the federal transportation bill that was passed by Congress last year, the $300 million the state will collect from a recent court settlement with some of the country’s largest drug wholesalers and the billions of dollars in federal aid that was given to the state and municipalities through the CARES Act and American Rescue Plan Act.
Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, said the legislature needs to have more say over how those monies are used and more insight into whether the funds are spent appropriately.
Kelly has argued that state lawmakers are not doing enough to exert their legislative authority and to serve as a check on Gov. Ned Lamont and his administration.
“What we believe needs to happen is oversight, accountability, transparency, sunlight,” Kelly said.
The press conference on Thursday wasn’t the first time that legislative Republicans have called for the executive branch to provide more information to lawmakers and the public about how federal relief money and other aid is being monitored. There has been consistent criticism from the Republican party since last fall when it became public that more than $600,000 in federal relief funding that was given to West Haven was allegedly diverted to a business that was operated by Michael DiMassa, a former state Democratic lawmaker and city employee.
But this week did mark the first time that Republicans put together a formal proposal that would require the legislature to play a bigger role in financial oversight moving forward.
That proposal would empower the legislature in several ways: It would require the executive branch agencies overseeing the federal funding and opioid settlement proceeds to provide quarterly reports to various legislative committees. It would enable lawmakers to hold public hearings to discuss that spending. And it would also mandate that the state set up public websites where the public can easily access information about where the money is flowing.
There were no Democrats at the press conference on Thursday, but Kelly and others said they were hopeful that lawmakers in the Democratic majority would support their plans for increased transparency. As evidence, the Republicans pointed out that a bipartisan group of legislators was willing to exert more control over the federal relief money that the state received through the federal American Rescue Plan Act last year.
“We think this is something that people demand,” Kelly said. “This isn’t a Republican issue. This isn’t a Democratic issue. This is a good governance issue.”
A spokesperson for Lamont didn’t immediately return a request for comment.
Many of the Republicans who attended the press conference emphasized that the federal transportation spending, COVID relief funding and the opioid settlement proceeds can all be considered once-in-a-generation investments in the state. The size of those investments, they said, makes it essential for the money to reach the projects and people who need it most.
Craig Miner, a Republican senator and ranking member on the legislature’s appropriations committee, said he believes most public funding is spent the right way, but he said the public needs to have confidence in how their tax dollars are used.
“We believe we should have a more consistent framework for reporting. We believe we should have a more consistent framework for communicating,” he said.