Rowland situation troubles leaders

As the Connecticut General Assembly prepares for an investigation into corruption allegations involving Gov. John G. Rowland, state and local politicians concede that legislators are entering unfamiliar territory.

With every indication that Rowland intends to serve out his term, the legislature’s inquiry into the governor’s conduct could take several months. And for New Haven and other Connecticut cities whose policies — and perhaps more importantly, operating budgets — depend on decisions made in the state capitol, the uncertainty surrounding the three-term governor may trickle down.

House Speaker Moira Lyons, a Democrat, announced yesterday that the House would form a bipartisan committee to investigate the allegations surrounding Rowland, who admitted Dec. 12 to lying about having received free work on his vacation home in Litchfield, Conn. from state employees and contractors. The committee — which will consist of five Democrats and five Republicans — may be named by the House in a special session as early as next week.

While Rowland had originally expressed opposition to an inquiry, which may eventually lead to an impeachment vote in the House, he said Tuesday that he welcomed “a process that is deliberate, objective and fair.” But while high-profile calls for him to resign have been mounting this week — including from prominent Republican Congressman Christopher Shays on Monday and from the New York Times editorial board yesterday — the governor has repeatedly stated that he is not planning to step down.

“I want the people of this state to know something,” Rowland said in a public statement yesterday. “I will continue to do this job, to the best of my abilities, each and every day.”

But state legislators said earlier this week that it was unlikely the General Assembly will be able to conduct business as usual during the course of an investigation. With questions concerning the state budget looming before the Assembly when it goes back into session in February, state and local officials said they were uncertain as to how the often-protracted give-and-take over the state’s spending plan would unfold.

For New Haven, which depends on state aid for about half its revenues, the debate in Hartford over the state budget could determine whether City Hall’s fiscal difficulties continue. Last year, after a significant decline in state aid that resulted from contentious budget negotiations in Hartford, the Elm City ran a deficit of $3.7 million.

New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said earlier this week that it was unlikely the General Assembly would focus its attention on major initiatives — like the property tax reform measures introduced last fall by a commission chaired by DeStefano — if Rowland remains in office. Julio Gonzalez ’99, the executive assistant to the New Haven mayor, said Rowland’s precarious position was likely to create a “vacuum of leadership” in Hartford that might make it more difficult to pass new legislation.

“I’d say the biggest problem is that it’s just a huge distraction to the legislative process, and instead of us being able to engage our representatives and senators with fiscal issues, their time is being consumed by this scandal and these investigations,” Gonzalez said.

But echoing the words of many of his colleagues, State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney said the investigation’s impact on New Haven — like much of the fallout surrounding Rowland’s situation — is uncertain. Although Connecticut has never impeached a governor, the General Assembly created a bipartisan committee in 1983 to investigate a Hartford probate judge, who resigned before impeachment proceedings began in the House.

“At this point, no one can tell,” said Looney, a Democrat who represents New Haven and Hamden. “The process we are entering into is wholly unprecedented.”

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