Lembo law needed

The state Senate found ample time in the recent legislative session to figure out how to spend taxpayer money, but it ran out of time when it came to passing a law that would provide better accountability about how that money is spent. How convenient.

Comptroller Kevin J. Lembo spearheaded the legislation, "An Act Concerning Transparency in Economic Assistance." It would have mandated the creation of a publicly searchable database for economic assistance grants and tax credit programs. Such a system would allow the public to review the performance of these grants and tax credits. It would include such key statistics as the number of jobs created or retained because of the assistance, as well as information on whether, and how, the beneficiary complied with the conditions of the assistance.

As things stand now, it seems the state awards tax credits and shovels grants out the door with no clear accountability as to how successfully the money is utilized.

Take the case of the Amistad America group, charged with overseeing the administration of the schooner that is a reproduction of the slave ship Amistad. The Department of Economic and Community Development awards the group $359,000 annually to tell the history of the slaves who fought for their freedom aboard the ship and later in U.S. courts.

The Day has reported the organization lost its nonprofit status for failing to file federal tax returns. The schooner is now homeported in Maine and has seemingly strayed from its educational mission. Its website is inactive. DECD officials appear at a loss to explain how the state money is spent and to what benefit.

While it is a gray area as to whether the law would cover the Amistad organization, the situation illustrates a problem in accounting for the use of tax dollars.

Mr. Lembo's proposed transparency legislation won unanimous House approval, but never got to a Senate vote.

By way of explanation, Senate President Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, told The Connecticut Mirror that there were "a lot of bills that died on the calendar." It is good to see what a high priority accountability in government spending is for Sen. Williams.

Mr. Lembo says he will lobby the Malloy administration to create such a database without a law in place. Gov. Malloy should do so.

Then next year the legislature should approve the act to assure compliance by future governors.

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