HARTFORD, CT (AP) State senators approved a reform package that would set new standards for privatized contracts on Oct. 26, a day after a construction company executive and former gubernatorial aide pleaded guilty in a bribes-for-contracts scandal.
“It’s critical to the state of Connecticut because it addresses centrally the Rowland scandals,” said Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, referring to imprisoned former Republican Gov. John G. Rowland.
“Contracting corruption was at the center of the Rowland scandals,” Williams added.
Senators voted on a mostly party line in approving the bill 26-9. The plan awaits action in the House of Representatives. Both chambers are controlled by Democrats.
But Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell hinted that she might veto the bill if changes are not made.
She vetoed an earlier version this year because it included a two-year privatization moratorium that would have prevented the state from hiring outside companies to provide state services, including snow plowing, mental health care and group homes for the mentally retarded.
The latest version scraps the moratorium but includes new standards for privatizing state services.
“The contracting reforms contained in this bill are the ones I proposed and have long been supporting. But I remain very troubled by the unrelated language in this bill that could jeopardize the provision of vital state services to some of our most vulnerable citizens, such as those in group homes or receiving mental health services,” Rell said in a written statement.
“I have made my position clear, and I look forward to the House debate,” Rell said. “The majority leadership knows my position if the bill remains unchanged.”
Rell contended there would be no ramifications from a veto because she has already issued an executive order that reforms some of the state’s contracting process.
Democrats said they believed they had drafted a compromise that Rell could sign. The new legislation replaces the moratorium with new standards for privatizing services, such as requiring cost-benefit analyses and allowing state employees to bid on projects the state wants to award to private companies.
“I think this addresses the issues in her veto message,” said Sen. Donald DeFronzo, D-New Britain, co-chairman of the Government Administration and Elections Committee.
But Republican senators said the proposed standards are biased toward state employee unions.
“If we’re going to do an analysis, it should be on a basis that is even to both,” said Sen. William Nickerson, R-Greenwich.
Democrats also argued that the proposed new rules would not affect state contracts with nonprofit agencies until 2008. But nonprofit agencies, which run the group homes and various social service programs, are still concerned the bill will be a problem after that.
“This bill continues to restrict the ability of the state to contract for vital services from nonprofit human service providers at a time when such limitations will be highly detrimental to the well-being of our citizens,” the Connecticut Nonprofit Human Services Cabinet said in a statement.
The contracting portion of the bill establishes grounds for suspending and disqualifying contractors and subcontractors from participating in state contracts for projects and services.
In federal court on Oct. 25, Peter N. Ellef, Rowland’s former co-chief of staff, admitted rigging a vote to award a $57-million state construction deal to contractor William Tomasso. In exchange, Tomasso lavished Ellef and his deputy with cash and luxury items.
Although that project was fast-tracked by the legislature, allowing it to forgo traditional bidding, Williams said he believes this latest contracting reform legislation might have prevented it.
He said the bill establishes a State Contracting Standards Board that would review contracts worth more than $500,000. The board would also have the power to end or suspend a contract if it doesn’t meet the new state standards.
Rell has already used her executive powers to create the board, but agreed with lawmakers that it should be set in state law.