Despite Changes, Energy Auction is Now Out of State Budget Deal

In an ever-evolving effort to find the money to pay for a budget deal between the Malloy administration and legislative Democrats, the controversial auction of rights to provide electric service to many customers in the state is now off the table.

As recently as early Friday, lawmakers such as Senate Majority Leader Marty Looney, Sen. Beth Bye and Attorney General George Jepsen all thought changes to the original bill designed to provide further protections for consumers would be enough for it to be approved as part of the budget even if it wasn’t a particularly favored part of the spending plan. The Malloy administration was counting on $80 million or more from the auction.

Ironically, it was minority Republicans who essentially killed the auction, threatening a filibuster with only days remaining in the session. A number of House Democrats—exactly how many is unknown after changes were made to the original bill—were also unhappy with the one-shot revenue source.

House Minority Leader Larry Cafero was quoted by CTMirror.org as telling Malloy chief of state Mark Ojakian, “It has the potential to be one of the ugliest moments in this legislature, certainly in this session, if they run the bill.”

If the fact that the electric services auction would be a nonrecurring revenue source for the budget was the concern of many critics, those same people may not like the alternatives being considered to close the now-gaping hole in the budget.

According to the CTMirror story, one idea is to use money the state gets from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Connecticut’s has gotten about $14 million a year for the last five years. Another idea, according to CTMirror, would use $63 million the state is getting from a deal reached last week in connection with a lawsuit against five major tobacco manufacturers. The state has taken heat for years for using tobacco settlement money for the general fund instead of smoking cessation programs.

Any way one looks at it, the move to ditch the electric services auction blows a hole in the delicately balanced budget—a plan critics already say isn’t balanced at all to begin with. Friday, Sen. Looney said scrapping the auction would cause big problems. “Yes, it would. We would either have to find additional sources of revenue or make more [painful] cuts,” he said.

Attorney General George Jepsen said Friday that although he still didn’t like the general idea of the auction, the changes made to the original version made a difference. “Significant steps [had] been taken to protect consumers,”Jepsen said. “This is a very different bill than what it was before [the changes were made].” Jepsen, a Democrat, originally broke with Gov. Malloy and legislative Democrats and wrote a letter opposing the bill in its original form.

Yet the combination of the threatened House Republican filibuster and some still-dissatisfied House Democrats doomed the auction. Legislators will now work to find an alternative solution. The clock runs out on the session Wednesday at midnight.