Attorney General: Honorable Donald Williams Senate President Pro Tempore, Formal Opinion 2009-007, Attorney General State of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

July 28, 2009

The Honorable Donald Williams

Senate President Pro Tempore

Legislative Office Building

Hartford, Connecticut  06106

 

Dear Senator Williams:

 

            You asked for a legal opinion as to  the circumstances under which subsection (b) of section 3 of Public Act 09-214 would require the legislative Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee and the Appropriations Committee (the Committees)  to prepare and vote on adjusted appropriations and revenue plans.  Similarly, you asked under what circumstances the Governor would have to submit a budget document pursuant to this subsection. 

 

            We conclude that Section 3(b) of Public Act 09-214 only requires the Committees and the Governor to prepare and vote on adjusted appropriation and revenue plans if the consensus revenue estimate is less than the revenue estimates used in the original committee plan or gubernatorial document, respectively, such that the appropriations contained in such plan or document are greater than the consensus revenue estimate.   Simply put, a new plan or document would be required if the revised consensus revenue estimate would result in deficit spending under the original appropriations plan or document.

 

            Resolution of this issue requires us to interpret the public act. In construing a public act, “the fundamental objective is to ascertain and give effect to the apparent intent of the legislature.” American Promotional Events, Inc. v. Blumenthal, 285 Conn. 192, 202 (2008). In searching for the legislative intent, a court looks “first to the text of the statute and its relationship to other statutes.” Id., citing Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-2z. If the text of the statute is not clear and unambiguous, it is appropriate to look to the statute’s “legislative history and circumstances surrounding its enactment, to the legislative policy it was designed to implement, and to its relationship to existing legislation and common law principles governing the same general subject matter.” Jagger v. Mohawk Mountain Ski Area, Inc., 269 Conn. 672, 679 (2004).

 

            Subsection (a) of section 3 of Public Act 09-214 addresses solely this current fiscal biennium, providing for a process whereby the Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA) and the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) come to an agreement regarding the estimated state revenues for the next two fiscal years.    If these two state offices fail to agree on estimated revenues, the State Comptroller is charged with issuing a consensus revenue estimate that is equal to or between the revenue estimates of OFA and OPM.

 

            Subsection (b) of section 3 of Public Act 09-214 provides:

 

(b) If no budget for the biennium beginning July 1, 2009, and ending June 30, 2011, has become law by the effective date of this section, then not later than ten days after the effective date of this section, the joint standing committees of the General Assembly having cognizance of matters relating to appropriations and finance, revenue and bonding, shall prepare and vote on adjusted appropriation and revenue plans, if necessary to address the consensus revenue estimate prepared pursuant to subsection (a) of this section, and the Governor shall provide a budget document, prepared in accordance with the requirements of section 4-74 of the general statutes, as amended by this act, if necessary to address such consensus revenue estimate. (emphasis added)

 

            Pursuant to this subsection, the Committees must vote on adjusted appropriations and revenues only “if necessary to address the consensus revenue estimate.”  In order to determine when such adjustment is “necessary,” we look to the statutory requirements of the appropriations and revenue budget legislation.  

 

            Conn. Gen. Stat. §2-35 requires that the state budget act contain funding for the operations of state government and a statement of estimated revenue for each appropriated fund.   The statute states in pertinent part: 

 

Such statement of estimated revenue, including the estimated refunds of taxes to be offset against such revenue, shall be supplied by the joint standing committee of the General Assembly having cognizance of matters relating to state finance, revenue and bonding. The total estimated revenue for each fund, as adjusted in accordance with this section, shall not be less than the total net appropriations made from each fund.

 

(Emphasis added.)

 

            Thus, Conn. Gen. Stat. §2-35 requires that appropriations not exceed the estimated revenues, not that they match exactly.  Article Third, §18(a) of the Connecticut Constitution contains a similar requirement, stating “The amount of general budget expenditures authorized for any fiscal year shall not exceed the estimated amount of revenue for such fiscal year.”

           

            If the consensus revenue estimate is higher than the legislative committee’s revenue estimate and the appropriations committee’s budget, the Committees need not revise their original plans under Section 3 of Public Act 09-214 because the expenditures would be less than projected revenues.  Such a budget would generate a surplus if actual revenues and expenditures equaled the budgeted amount.  Such surplus would then be applied to the state’s budget reserve fund (rainy day account) or  to a  reduction in bonded indebtedness.   Conn. Const. Article Third, §18.  

 

            Therefore, subsection (b) of section 3 of Public Act 09-214 only imposes a legal obligation that the Committees revise their budget and revenue estimates if the Committees’ original appropriation and plan is less than the consensus revenue estimate, not equal to it or more. 

 

Even if the Committees are not legally obligated to make such revisions if the consensus revenue estimates are higher, they may wish to do so as a matter of sound public policy and public interest.  Revision could reduce any proposed increases in taxes or restore budget cuts to critical safety net programs.  These significant results could well justify the Committees’ consideration, despite the absence of legal requirement.

 

            A similar analysis applies to the Governor’s responsibilities.  Under Conn. Gen. Stat. §4-72, the Governor must submit a budget that contains a summary of revenue estimated to be received, and a summary of the recommended appropriations, for each fiscal year of the biennium.  The budget document must also include any proposed statutory changes either increase or decrease revenues to address any projected surplus or deficit. 

 

            The Governor’s budget document must include appropriation and revenue legislation to implement the Governor’s overall budget.   Conn. Gen. Stat. §4-74.   Since this legislation is the basis for General Assembly action pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. §2-35 and Conn. Const. Article Third, §18, the requirement that the appropriations not exceed estimated revenue applies equally to the Governor’s submission under Conn. Gen. Stat. §4-74. 

 

            Thus, similar to the legislature’s responsibility under subsection (b) of section 3 of Public Act 09-214, the Governor would only be required to submit a budget document if the consensus revenue estimate is less than the appropriations contained in the Governor’s original budget document. 

Very truly yours,


RICHARD BLUMENTHAL


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Content Last Modified on 9/15/2009 2:19:44 PM