Prison sentences and pleas in West Haven's COVID relief fund scandal now mark the final chapter in a shameful tale of government fraud.
Another story of government abuse of taxpayer dollars is yet to be complete, as federal authorities probe the state's now-infamous multibillion-dollar school construction program. An audit of this program, released in January, provided the public and lawmakers with spotty information, at best.
This is not the way government should operate. Yes, a few bad actors are responsible for these incidents – most municipal and state employees are honorable people. However, even one dollar of taxpayer money that government officials abuse is one dollar too many. We must respect the sacrifices of all taxpayers every day, and that is done by treating their money as our own.
Anyone reading this piece knows just how difficult it is to stretch your paycheck from week to week, or month to month. You have respect for your money and know how scarce it is. Because of this scarcity, we're held accountable by our families, our employers and our businesses to properly spend what we earn. State and municipal government must do the same.
As Connecticut receives an unprecedented amount of federal funding for COVID relief and infrastructure investment, we must ensure that every taxpayer dollar is spent wisely and transparently. Cases like West Haven or the state's school construction program highlight the need for improved oversight and disclosure to prevent future abuses.
That's why I am proud to have joined my Senate Republican colleagues recently to introduce our Better Way to An Accountable Connecticut, which aims to bolster government accountability across the board. This series of actionable proposals addresses the recent scandals I've mentioned and would install guardrails to prevent other forms of government fraud. It includes mechanisms for COVID relief fund oversight; oversight of federal funds for roads, bridges, and highways; and creates a state Chief Accountability Office with the power to investigate impropriety.
What would these mechanisms be? To provide transparency and accountability for federal funds, we suggest requiring municipal CEOs to submit quarterly reports detailing their expenditures. These reports should be easily accessible to taxpayers on state and town websites.
Connecticut is set to receive nearly $5.4 billion in federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funds. These billions must be used for their intended purpose to address our most pressing infrastructure needs, while addressing climate initiatives and advancing transportation for our future. To respect your dollars, we propose requiring the Connecticut Department of Transportation to establish a webpage dedicated to its use of the funds, detailing a project’s status, budget and completion date.
Moreover, we propose establishing the State Accountability Office, led by two Chief Accountability Officers from each party, to hold state, quasi-public and local governmental activities to the highest standards of integrity. The legislative branch has a solemn duty to hold the executive branch accountable for its stewardship of public funds and projects. By implementing these measures, we can make sure that the historic federal investments are used efficiently, transparently and securely for the benefit of all Connecticut residents. It's time for bipartisan support and action to improve the quality of life for everyone in our state.
For more information on A Better Way to An Accountable Connecticut, visit BetterWayCT.com.
State Sen. Paul Cicarella, Deputy Senate Republican Leader, represents the 34th District (Durham, East Haven, North Branford, North Haven, Wallingford).