A covert effort to shield business subsidy data from public scrutiny failed in yesterday’s budget implementer, but just barely. The fact it almost became law is troubling. When actual implementer language surfaced just hours before yesterday’s vote, many were surprised to find a provision exempting “all records” related to business subsidies from the Freedom of Information Act, provided those records “could adversely affect the financial interest of the state, the business or organization.” “Could” can mean almost anything in the hands of a lawyer; the provision, therefore, could obscure from public scrutiny all manner of information on how public dollars are spent.
The provision in question was not announced previously, nor was it ever subject to public scrutiny. Rather, it was plucked from an uncalled amendment to a bill that died on the House Calendar and dropped into a section of the implementer entitled “CDA-CII merger.” Only a close examination of hundreds of pages of bill text—in the precious few hours before the vote—could tip off concerned citizens to this effort to deny them a say in how public dollars are spent.
Fortunately, the state’s newspapers and budget watchdogs learned of this provision at the last minute and managed to have it removed. The question, though, is how many measures like this one slipped by in the 658 pages of legislation passed yesterday, not to mention in previous years’ budget implementers. Connecticut Voices has long advocated, and the state has long prided itself on, transparency and accountability in government. Let’s stay true to our values and ensure the laws we pass follow established channels and receive fair public hearing.