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Thursday, July 14, 2005

Will there be a lawsuit over the state spending cap?

Here's an interesting article from the New York Newsday:

A new state law that sets aside $26 million to preserve farmland, open space and encourage affordable housing is triggering the first major debate in a decade over Connecticut's constitutional cap on spending.

And Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who signed the bill into law earlier this week, is encouraging a possible lawsuit over the issue.

"I strongly support the programs contained in this bill, and have for years. But the money it raises was not included in the state budget adopted by the General Assembly," Rell said. "So there are legitimate questions as to whether the funding mechanism violates the spirit, if not the letter, of our spending cap requirements."

The new law, which was debated for six hours in the House of Representatives during this year's regular legislative session, imposes a $30 surcharge on some land transactions. That money will be used to create a fund to shield farmland from development, protect open space, take care of historical landmarks and build affordable housing.

House Minority Leader Robert Ward, R-North Branford, has said the plan amounts to an extra tax and an excuse for the Democrat-controlled legislature to spend more than they are allowed to under the constitutional cap approved by 80 percent of Connecticut voters in 1992. To get around the cap, the legislation "disburses" money for the land preservation efforts rather than "appropriates" the cash.

"We felt it was a blatant attempt to get around the spending cap," said Patrick O'Neill, Ward's spokesman.
Those sneeky Democrats.
House Speaker James Amann, D-Milford, whose Democratic caucus voted overwhelmingly for the preservation bill, said Ward has the right to file a lawsuit if he wishes. Amann said his budget staff advised him that the legislation did not violate the cap.

But Amann, who was in office when the cap was first enacted, said it makes sense to take another look at the cap and how it is defined. For example, he and many Democrats believe it makes sense not to count federal funding the state receives as money spent under the cap.

"The time has come between Democrats and the Republican Party and the governor's office. We should go back and take a look at this spending cap," he said. "We need to do it on a bipartisan basis. It's going to be difficult, let's face facts."
Hmmm. If you think you didn't violate the law, why say that say we need to go and look at how the law is defined? Whatever the case, this is something that should be worked out between the General Assembly and not the courts.