Susan Bransfield Give more time to assess cost of bills
Until recently, the phrase “Fiscal Note” was something of a mystery outside of politics. The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities recently looked into the matter to shed some light on the subject. One key facet of this problem is that the Office of Fiscal Analysis is asked to put together fiscal notes in a very tight time crunch, meaning that they may never capture the whole picture. The fiscal impact of a bill is too important to be rushed in this way.
“A fiscal note is a brief statement of the fiscal impact that a piece of legislation would have on state and local government,” according to a definition found on the OFA’s website. It is an attempt to put a dollar amount on a bill that reaches the floor of the House or Senate, or is approved by committee.
The Connecticut General Statutes not only requires Fiscal Notes, but sets the precedent for how long the OFA has to create them in the first place.
A basic time frame for preparation is one to three calendar days for bills considered in the Appropriations and Finance committees. Bills reported out of committee have only five calendar days. And all amendments must be analyzed on a very quick, as-soon-as-possible basis.
These all-too-brief periods are hardly enough to do a complete and thorough investigation, let alone completely digest input from municipalities on how a bill might affect them.
One aspect is particularly shocking: Municipalities have only “two working days to provide the OFA with any information that may be necessary for analysis in preparation of such fiscal notes.”
This means that those towns and cities that don’t have the information immediately accessible and ready to give to the OFA might be left reporting on important fiscal impact on the final day the OFA is putting together a fiscal note — possibly after they’ve already drawn major conclusions.
Furthermore, this problem is manifold on amendments because of the need for quick turnarounds — especially at the end of the legislative session — meaning any input from a municipality could not possibly be given the due and proper consideration needed to correctly assess its fiscal impact.
As a result, it is no surprise that we in Connecticut have ended up with more than 1,300 unfunded mandates that cause increases in the cost of doing business in our state.
This is not to place the blame on OFA. It is not OFA’s job to assess the impact of the legislation. But it is written into law that towns and cities should have a chance to give input on potentially disastrous bills that are being considered for adoption.
To try to work within these time constraints, CCM recently created the Rapid Response Team as part of its Public Policy and Advocacy team. The idea is that given the short period that municipalities have to respond to OFA’s fiscal notes, municipalities will have to be quick on their feet. Creating a network of individuals who will have quick access to the financial impacts of bills will greatly reduce the time in responding to OFA, but it only takes a solution so far.
This brings us back to the question: why do burdensome mandates get passed in the first place?
It seems as though part of the answer lies in how fiscal notes are created — there just is no way to judge the impact of all bills without a rigorous methodology in place to assess the fiscal impact of a bill.
But from the point of view of the municipality it is unacceptable to pass on mandates to towns and cities, some of which are struggling without having to raise property taxes past the point of no return. Municipalities simply cannot afford any more unfunded mandates.
That is why I want more time.
We know that unfunded mandates are costly, but two business days is hardly enough time to prove it. .
CCM’s Rapid Response Team is a good solution to an unnecessary problem. We need to truly study and understand the impact of bills on the docket. We need to have an agreement on a methodology to assess fiscal impact, and an agreed-upon set of standards between municipal officials and legislators. It is the only way to be just and fair in this process.
This current system of completing complex fiscal analysis in a short amount of time or “as soon as possible,” as is the case with amendments, simply doesn’t work. The obvious answer is to allow more time. The very life and well-being of our Connecticut towns and cities demand it.
Susan Bransfield is first selectwoman of Portland and past president of the Connecticut Council of Municipalities.