Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information Challenges OPM Secretary on Budget Cuts to Watchdog Agencies

Press Release
August 4, 2016
Contact: Daniel J. Klau

(Statement by CCFOI President Daniel J. Klau)

Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes recently informed the heads of the state’s three main watchdog agencies that OPM no longer feels bound by a 2004 law that limits the governor’s authority to cut the budgets of those agencies beyond what the General Assembly has appropriated.  The Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information strongly disagrees with Secretary Barnes’s position, both as a matter of public policy and as a matter of law.

The General Assembly law passed the 2004 law limiting the governor’s recessionary authority in the wake of then-Governor John Rowland’s politically-motivated budget cuts to the watchdog agencies—the Freedom of Information Commission, Office of State Ethics and the State Election and Enforcement Commission.  Notably, the 2004 law does not insulate the watchdog agencies from budget cuts. Indeed, they have felt the severe pain of the budget ax this year.  But the law does protect them from a governor’s unilateral decision to cut their budgets.  Thus, the 2004 law reflected the General Assembly’s appreciation of the importance of the watchdog agencies and the need to protect their status as independent agencies.

Secretary Barnes apparently believes that legislation passed during the most recent legislative session effectively repealed the 2004 law.  The Secretary is mistaken.  Nothing the General Assembly did last session expressly or implicitly repealed the 2004 law.  The watchdog agencies remain subject to the legislature’s budget-cutting authority, but not the governor’s.

We respectfully urge Secretary Barnes to reconsider his mistaken position and to release to the watchdog agencies all funds the General Assembly allocated to them for the current fiscal year.  We hope that members of the General Assembly will join CCFOI in rejecting Secretary Barnes’ interpretation of their 2016 budget bill.

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CCFOI has been serving the public since 1955. Daniel J. Klau, president; Zachary Janowski, vice president; Mary Connolly, secretary; George Lombardi, treasurer.