Politics

Stuck on Contracts

Everybody agrees John Rowland made a mess managing Connecticut. What they don't agree on is how to fix it.
by | September 2005

Even when a state is willing to admit it has a problem of favoritism in dispensing public money--and is determined to make the process equitable and fair--it often has trouble getting the changes made. Consider what's happening in Connecticut. The former governor, John Rowland, lost both his office and his freedom last year, going to prison for contracting deals that were too sweet a reward for his contributors and friends. His successor, Jodi Rell, has made contracting reform, as well as ethics in general, a hallmark of her administration since taking office a year ago.

Yet Rell has been unable to come to terms with the legislature about how best to rectify the state's contracting system. After months of negotiation, the legislators passed a bill placing a two-year moratorium on contracting out any of the state's existing services to private firms. Rell found that too stringent, and vetoed the bill. Had it passed, says James Fleming, the state commissioner of public works, "the executive branch would have been unable to function." Legislators who worked on the bill don't buy that complaint. "The issue of privatization needs to be part of the reform," says state Senator Donald DeFronzo, a bill sponsor who last year co-chaired a contracting reform task force with Fleming.

Upon vetoing the bill, Rell quickly issued an executive order that mirrors much of the legislation, most importantly in creating an oversight board that will sign off on contracts and recommend further procedural changes. DeFronzo says that's not enough--he thinks legislation will still be needed to prevent future governors from rewarding his pals with sweetheart deals, as Rowland did for nearly a decade.

Rell has already signaled that she too favors a statute. It's going to be tough reaching agreement, though, if the two sides can't reach a compromise on the privatization issue. There seem to be legitimate differences of opinion on policy here, but there's also a lot of politics. Rell is a Republican, while the legislature is dominated by Democrats. Instead of putting aside their differences to make sure that contracting abuses are curbed, both sides want the credit for making things better.

"There are a lot of competing ways about how to clean up the mess that former Governor Rowland created," says Andy Sauer, of Common Cause in Connecticut. "It's hard to separate what's politics and what's genuine good policy."

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