Privatize DECD? Smith thought about it

BY Matt Pilon

Catherine Smith, Commissioner, Department of Economic and Community Development
It's campaign season, so Connecticut gubernatorial candidates are telling voters where they think state government could cut spending and be more effective.

So far, those ideas have included consolidating or even privatizing certain agencies, including the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Unaffiliated gubernatorial candidate Oz Griebel recently pitched the idea of privatizing the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), an agency that oversees major corporate incentive programs like First Five Plus, which uses bond funds to incentivize job retention and growth.

It turns out DECD Commissioner Catherine Smith already explored that option about four years ago, shortly after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was re-elected to his second term.

"I saw the benefits but I also saw the downsides," Smith said recently. "The biggest upside [to privatizing] is there's more engagement by the private sector, and some states have done a good job on that."

She added that it could also bring a certain nimbleness because procurement and other rules may not be as rigid.

A potential downside, Smith said, is that the agency would be further removed from the will of the governor and legislature.

"If they can't control it, they might not want to invest in it," she said.

Ultimately, Smith's biggest concern after her review was that privatizing could take the better part of a year, a process that would distract the agency from its core purpose of promoting development. She chose not to recommend the move to Malloy.