Connecticut's Budget Woes May Eliminate Some Special Commissions–Including LPRAC


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Bill Sarno
With analysts projecting that the state’s budget deficit could total several billion dollars over the next few years, Governor Dannel Malloy is proposing the complete elimination of state funding for the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission and five other agencies that advise legislators on the needs and issues of specific demographic and ethnic populations.
This represents a much tougher stance than 2011 and 2013 when the governor unsuccessfully advocated that these commissions be consolidated into a single entity, a Commission of Citizen Advocacy, as an efficiency and cost-cutting measure.
In this go-around, the willingness of LPRAC’s supporters in the Legislature to save the agency, which is currently allocated $445,000 a year, is likely to depend on how it fits into their need to protect other interests.
Rep. Christopher Rosario observed that,  while “some legislators are in love with the commission,” for his delegation from Bridgeport the priorities are education funding, the property tax cut on vehicles and municipal aid. “I want to hold onto services that benefit my community,” he said.
Rosario said he expects that ultimately the influential Black and Puerto Rican Caucus will “try to do everything it can to hold everybody as harmless as possible” in the budget reductions.
While Malloy’s fellow Democrats, who hold the majority in the Legislature, have not put this doomsday option on the table, the Republican legislative minority also indicated it wants to “eliminate state support of legislative commissions” to save $900,000 in FY 2016 and $2.8 milion in FY 2017.”
LPRAC has some significant supporters, as do the other special commissions on women, children, the elderly, African Americans and Asian Americans that are on the governor’s hit list. However, with the state facing budget gaps could be as much as $370 million for the current fiscal year and over a billion dollars in 2017 and 2018, there also is the uncertainty about how these research, advisory and advocacy agencies will fare.
Malloy’s budget proposal to zero-out state funding for the four-person LPRAC office and for the five other commissions, anticipates this will save the state nearly $1.5 million this fiscal year.
At this point, none of the major parties in the upcoming budget discussions have mentioned consolidation or having the commissions’ budgets whacked to help the state stem the flow of red ink.
Like Rosario, state Rep. Edwin Vargas expects the legislature’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus will again support continuation of the Latino and African-American commissions.
However, the Hartford Democrat also said that the caucus will be fighting for so many different causes, particularly municipal and education aid, that it is difficult to say where LPRAC will end up on the group’s priority list.
Vargas said he will advocate for keeping LPRAC, adding it has “done a great job.” He noted that he testified on behalf of the commission when it was created in 1994.
There is strong support for LPRAC coming from the Bridgeport Child Advocacy Coalition and the Hispanic Federation, both of which are heavily involved in providing social services for the urban Latino population.
The Bridgeport agency issued a statement that charged that the the cuts proposed by the governor and Republicans “are on the backs of our most needy. … One of the most shocking is elimination of legislative Commissions including the Permanent Commission on Status of Women, Commission on Children, Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, Parent Trust Fund, Two-Generation Council and more.”
Ingrid Alvarez, Connecticut state director for the Hispanic Federation, stated, “It is paramount for the
governor and General Assembly to identify alternative revenue sources to preserve our social safety net and vital community initiatives, while not balancing the budget on the backs of historically-underfunded communities.”
Alvarez added that the Federation, which coordinates a network of nonprofit agencies, opposes cuts to the state’s Latino community-based organizations and the proposed elimination of the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, as well as similar commissions representing communities of color and women that provide vital policy, research and community insight that guide our state leaders in making prudent governing decisions.”
According to Evelyn Mantilla, who served in state House of Representatives from 1997 to 2007, a period when LPRAC was in its infancy, eliminating this commission would be a short-sighted measure to help balance the budget. “The governor and his administration represent all Latinos in our state and, as such, must stay informed on the needs of this community,” she said, adding, “LPRAC is the best mechanism by which public policy can be enacted to meet these needs.”
In making the case for LPRAC remaining intact, Werner Oyanadel, the commission’s executive director, noted that LPRAC “is an all-volunteer legislative commission, supported by a small staff.” The agency’s mission, he said, is to provide “advice to the General Assembly and governor concerning the coordination and administration of state programs that affect Hispanics/Latinos, and reviews current data to better understand the status, condition and contributions of the Latino community.”
As to what LPRAC does that impacts the average Latino, in addition to providing more than $22,000 in
scholarships this year, Oyanadel listed an array of initiatives that include:
*Alerting state government to the impact on residents of a new law in Puerto Rico regarding birth
certificates as a primary proof of citizenship for U.S. passports.
*Helping to initiate a probe by the U.S. Department of Justice into acts of racial profiling in East Haven.
*Advancing initiatives concerning English Language Learners, driver’s licenses, access to college
education, and participation in voting and government.
*Conducting legislative forums to advise policy-makers on mandated issues such as education, public safety, discrimination, self-sufficiency and public health.
At this point, the situation in regard to LPRAC and the other commissions appears to be fluid, especially
with the Democratic caucus preparing to meet in a few days.
Among the possible scenarios that Latino leaders speculated on are that between the Republicans and non-urban legislators there might be enough votes to eliminate or severely shrink LPRAC and some of the other commissions.
Pablo Soto, a Meriden Republican who is a LPRAC commissioner, suggested that in tight budget times the commission may have to share in the cutbacks and that consolidation could emerge as an alternative to elimination.
So far, none of the major parties in the budget discussion have pitched consolidation, Oyanadel noted. The LPRAC executive director said that this was “a really bad option because it would pit growing interests against each other.”
Another Republican commissioner, Ruben Rodriguez of Waterbury, underscored that what has to be prominent in any budget negotiations is that issues of concern to the Latino community continue to be addressed. He said these include, “issues in education, specifically concerns about testing, bilingual education; health care issues and specific health education initiatives directed toward the Latino community; housing; public safety policy and its effects on the Latino community; as well as judicial issues and the criminal justice system.
Rodriguez added, “There are many initiatives in which LPRAC has been involved that have been beneficial to the Latino community and should be continued.”