By Wayne Jebian
Latino legislators and leaders rallied in support of the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission as an independent, autonomous body at a public hearing on Tuesday. They were protesting a proposal by Governor Malloy to roll the commission into a new Commission on Citizen Advocacy being proposed in the state budget.
Besides the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, also affected are these legislative commissions dealing with children, women, African-Americans, and Asian Pacific affairs. All five provide legal services, advocacy and research to lawmakers at the State Capitol for agendas where the legislature has in the past determined there is a need. The consolidation is expected to save the state $800,000.
Attorney Isaias T. Diaz, L Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission Chair, said, “We understand the need to control state expenditures but the Governor’s proposal seriously undermines the original intent of the legislative branch when it created these commissions as separate, independent agencies in order for each to most effectively inform state policy makers about the status, conditions and contributions of very different underserved
Ben Barnes, secretary of the Office of Policy and Management said, “This is very much in keeping with what we’ve been doing in the executive branch and throughout the state government to reduce the cost of administering stand-alone agencies, when we think that they can be effectively combined.”
Barnes pointed out that under the Governor’s proposal, core staff would be maintained for the purpose of allowing the work of the commissions to continue. “Bear in mind that we’re not eliminating these functions,” he said. “It should not be taken as an indication that we do not believe in the mission of these advocacy commissions, which we think are a useful support mechanism for the General Assembly as it does its work.”
Barnes conceded that the legislature could disagree with the budget proposal, which he termed a “suggestion,” not just as a reaction by members of those commissions that would be losing their individual identities, but also on the issues of its merit. “We don’t have the hubris to say that the way we have proposed reorganizing it is the only way, or even the best way,” he said.
State Rep. Juan Candelaria (D-New Haven) stated that he would oppose the Governor’s proposed consolidation. “My concern is that there’s really no savings,” he said, adding that even if there were cost benefits, they would be too small to justify jeopardizing the effectiveness of the commissions and their function.
“My concern is that the commissions themselves have a direct mission. LPRAC, it is to work with legislators on legislation that impacts Latino constituencies. How is this new [consolidated] agency going to deal with the culturally sensitive issues that the commission addresses on a daily basis?” Candelaria said.
Werner Oyanadel, acting executive director of LPRAC, expressed alarm that the commission might not reach its 20th anniversary. (It was founded in 1994.) “We strongly believe that these proposals are ill advised and represent a step back for Connecticut,” he said.
The consolidation proposal is consistent with similar “streamlining” actions in the past by Governor Malloy, including the consolidation of the state public universities (except UConn) and community colleges into a single system, or the creation of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
Oyanadel addressed the budget proposal’s fiscal merits in a press release, writing, “For every dollar invested in LPRAC and the other commissions, they return almost two dollars back to the state in federal, philanthropic, and private contributions. Over the past two years LPRAC among other activities has released socio-economic research to fill gaps in the state’s own data collection efforts, conducted fundraising efforts that have resulted in $167,000 in privately-funded scholarships for 67 Connecticut students, supported efforts to increase voter registration and participation, and conducted legislative forums for the purpose of advising policymakers on such issues as education, discrimination, self-sufficiency, housing, and public health.”