Ct Biz Advocate Is Victim In State Capitol

Former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons still has a job with the state of Connecticut for at least six months, but his business advocate's office is the latest victim of the state's budget crisis.

The Democrat-controlled legislature voted Monday night to eliminate the office and transfer the duties to the Department of Economic and Community Development. It was part of an effort to reduce the state's growing budget deficit for the current fiscal year.

But at least Republican lawmaker said the move seemed political.

"Perhaps we don't need it, but why did we pick that one office? Why was that the one office we picked?" Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, asked during Monday's debate.

"It's not lost on our caucus that that one office is something that is held by a former Republican congressman who is active in Republican politics," he said. "We can't do that stuff."

Simmons, a former state legislator from Stonington, served three terms as a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing the 2nd congressional district. He was narrowly defeated in November 2006 by Vernon Democrat Joe Courtney.

The business advocate's office has a budget of $599,271 for the current fiscal year, which ends June 20, 2009. Of that, $165,543 is earmarked for salaries and benefits for Simmons and a full-time clerical aide. The remaining $437,728 is budgeted for other expenses such as travel, office overhead, consultants and literature.

Under the plan approved Monday, $225,000 of the office's unspent balance will be used to help cover the deficit and $80,000 will be transferred to the economic development agency to pay the salaries and benefits for Simmons and his aide until June 30, 2009.

A message was left seeking comment with Simmons.

With the change, Simmons will no longer be an employee of the governor's office, said Christopher Cooper, spokesman for Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

Rell's office was aware of the Democrats' plans to consolidate the functions of the business advocate and DECD, he said, but added that Rell does not want to eliminate the job and its functions.

"The governor wants to see the function preserved," Cooper said. "She thinks it's important to provide as much assistance to business during these times as possible."

Despite Monday's special legislative session, the current fiscal year is estimated to still have a deficit of $250 million or more. The next two fiscal years are projected to be $6 billion in the red.

State agency consolidations are expected to be proposed as part of Rell's new two-year budget, scheduled to be unveiled in February.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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