Lawmakers split on effects of proposed contractor bill


The proposal is supposed to keep contractors with the state honest in the wake of the past year's corruption scandals. But so far the biggest opposition to a bill - which passed through the Democrat-controlled legislature last week - has come from groups serving the poor and disabled. "The bill certainly limits our ability to reach out to people who need service and are on a waiting list," said
Tom Fanning , president of Ability Beyond Disability, a Brookfield organization that provides services for disabled people. "Over the long period, could this totally erode the non-profit sector? I believe it could." The threat, according to the non-profit sector, is the bill requires the state to do a cost-benefit analysis before letting a private agency take over a government project. Under this portion of the bill, a private organization or company would have to offer comparable employee pay and benefits to what state employees have. The generous state benefits package can be tough for non-profit groups to match, Fanning said. His concerns echoed those of others. For companies, this rule would kick in next July. For non-profit groups, it wouldn't take effect until 2008. The Connecticut Association of Non Profits
has lobbied against the bill, which Gov. M. Jodi Rell said she would likely veto. Such concerns are ridiculous, said Rep. Robert Godfrey , D-Danbury. He said a contracts with private firms should have to compete on a level playing field with state agencies. "All this says is that before we privatize a service, we make sure it's cheaper," Godfrey said. "We need an apples-to-apples comparison. We need an equal playing field for simple justice and equity." The cost-benefit analysis is just one portion of the bill. The legislation calls for the establishment of a State Contracting Standards Board that would create rules for disqualifying certain firms from bidding for a contract, and to terminate contracts if a firm is not living up to its agreement. The bill was passed the same week Peter Ellef , former chief of staff for imprisoned ex-Gov. John G. Rowland , pleaded guilty to bribery charges. Earlier this year, Rowland was sentenced to one-year in prison for accepting more than $100,000 in illegal gifts from state contractors. "This is the first big post-Rowland contracting reform bill," Godfrey said. "This makes sure the diversion of taxpayers' money to the governor's cronies sees the light of day." But under the legislation, the state would almost certainly do less business with private non-profits. That has some suggesting another motive. Republicans charge state employee union leaders support the bill as a way of reducing privatization and forcing the increased hiring of more employees. That's only one reason Rell said she would likely veto the bill. "My office has received many, many calls and e-mails urging me to veto this bill because it would hurt people in need of state services, non-profits, small businesses and minority-owned businesses," Rell said in a written statement. However, Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams said the bill would have prevented past abuses. "The privatization protections were always part of the bill and were not tacked on for any group," Willliams said at a news conference Tuesday in Hartford. "Nor does it hurt non-profits or small business. It provides protection the taxpayers deserve." To the contrary, argued Sen. David Cappiello , R-Danbury, the non-profit sector is being punished. "Non-profits in this state have done nothing wrong and have had nothing to do with the massive corruption in this state," Cappiello said. "Because of the overwhelming stranglehold state unions have on the General Assembly , non-profits could be shut out and we'll be forced to hire new state employees, which will make the union ranks grow." The average state employee is paid $58,000, according to the state Department of Administrative Services . Non-profit organizations offer more efficient services than the state, and shouldn't have an extra burden, said Trish Palmer , director of the Mental Health Association in Danbury. "We provide the case management and residential support services and we give a good value for the dollar," Palmer said. "This bill infringes on that." The better solution would be for the state to provide non-profit groups with adequate funding to pay their employees better, Fanning said. "We would be weighed on a scale based on the state compensations, which is far beyond what the state reimburses us for now," Fanning said.

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