One called Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposal to consolidate legislative commissions that represent minority communities “insulting” while another said it was “against the law.”
Malloy’s budget proposes consolidating the legislature’s commissions on women, African-Americans, Latinos, children, Asians, and the elderly to save about $800,000 annually. Additionally, Malloy wants to expand the mission of the commission to represents the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. The new commission would be called the Commission on Citizen Advocacy.
Teresa Younger, executive director of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, said the proposal is really an “insult to women and the commissions as they currently stand.”
She said last year the commissions were cut in half and serve very different populations with some overlap in some areas.
“Our mission is to assess legislation and the impact it has on women and their families around health and safety, economic security, and gender discrimination,” Younger said. “These cuts would never allow us to function in that capacity and be a resource.”
She said she understands that sometimes the commissions challenge and question the administration, which sometimes makes individuals “uncomfortable.”
Younger’s commission pointed out in 2011 that Malloy didn’t have as many women in his administration as he promised on the campaign trail.
Werner Oyanadel, acting executive director of the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, said he doesn’t believe Malloy even has the power to consolidate or eliminate the commissions, which fall under legislative control.
“It’s against the law,” Oyanadel said.
Oyanadel said the 21-member nonpartisan commission has been around since 1994 and helps make recommendations to the legislature and the governor for new or enhanced policies that will foster progress in achieving health, safety, educational success, economic self-sufficiency, and end discrimination in Connecticut.
“We have been filling a significant void,” Oyanadel said. “We strongly believe merging us under one agency misses the point.”
He said the commissions do much more than advocacy for their specific populations. They education and help the state leverage federal funding.
Elaine Zimmerman, executive director of the Commission on Children, said her organization “brought in nearly $1.5 million in federal, philanthropic, private, and in-kind assistance to community programs.” With a budget of about half-million a year, “that’s a return of $1.45 for every dollar invested.”
Both Oyanadel and Younger were confident the legislature would make sure they are as efficient as possible and still able to fulfill their missions.
Younger’s commission has been in existence for 40 years. It has five full-time staff members, and one position is currently vacant. The Latino Puerto Rican Affairs Commission has three staff members. The African-American Affairs Commission was created back in 1997 and currently has two staff members. The Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission created back in 2008 has two staff members, and the Children’s Commission has been around since 1985 and has five staff members. The Aging Commission has four part-time staff members and has been around since 1993.
Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes told the Appropriations Committee Thursday that the new consolidated office would have 18 staff members and a director. But he left it up to the legislature to decide exactly how the commission would operate since “it is a creature of the legislature.”
Last year the six commissions had a total budget of about $1.9 million, which is down from $2.7 million where it was before the cuts during the 2011 budget cycle.
Republican lawmakers have praised the move, which they proposed through their own alternative budget proposals in years past.
In the past, Democratic lawmakers have spared the commissions and often times come to their defense.
Zimmerman said when the commissions came under attack two years ago an amazing show of support helped turn the tide and spare their commission and others from consolidation.
The Appropriations Committee will hold a public hearing on the governor’s budget proposal on Feb. 19.