State commission for women's advocacy faces elimination in next round budget cuts

A post from November 13 on the Facebook page for the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, asking constituents to reach out for legislators and call off the budget cuts. (Screenshot/PCSW Facebook page)

The Permanent Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) is having its permanence and effectiveness questioned and tested by state legislative Republicans and Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy.

According to the PCSW’s website, the group “was formed in 1973…to study and improve Connecticut women’s economic security, health and safety; to promote consideration of qualified women to leadership positions; and to work toward the elimination of gender discrimination. As a non-partisan arm of the General Assembly the agency monitors, critiques and recommends changes to legislation to inform public policy, and assesses programs and practices in State agencies for their effect on the state’s women.”

With a $350 million budget deficit looming, state funding is being cut across the board. The PCSW and other commissions, including the African American Affairs Commission (AAAC); the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission (LPRAC); Connecticut Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission; Connecticut Commission on Children (CCC) and Connecticut Commission on Aging (COA), are being put up for decreased spending or complete decommissioning in the budget alterations for the rest of the fiscal year until Feb. of 2016. Thereupon the commissions will be on the chopping block once again in renewed budget negotiations, fighting for their existence.

The governor initially called for our elimination, as have the Republicans, but neither of the Democratic chambers have, at least not publicly.
— Christine Palm, communications director for the PCSW

In both Malloy’s and the Republican legislature’s preliminary list of prospective cuts to stay in the black for this current fiscal year, all six Connecticut commissions in place to protect and represent minority groups were specified to be eliminated. Malloy suggested the commissions be dissolved by Jan. 1 of 2016, Republicans Apr. 1. This, and other budget changes for the remainder of the fiscal year, will be debated in the legislature today.

The Communications Director for the PCSW, Christine Palm, said that the debate is up in the air since little has been specified in terms of how much Malloy and Republicans want to cut funding to the PCSW.

“We are still waiting,” Palm said. “The governor initially called for our elimination, as have the Republicans, but neither of the Democratic chambers have, at least not publicly.”

Executive director for the PCSW, Carolyn Treiss, testified before the appropriations committee on Mar. 5, protesting possible cuts to her commission’s budget.

A post from December 2 on the Facebook page for the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, asking constituents, once again, to reach out for legislators and call off the budget cuts. (Screenshot/PCSW Facebook page)

“The Governor’s budget as proposed for the PCSW for FY (fiscal year) 2016/2017 contains cuts to both personal services and other expenses,” Treiss said. “Please know that we are willing to do our part to address the budget shortfall, but we ask for your understanding of the fact that over the last several years, PCSW has, out of necessity, learned to operate efficiently on a lean budget. Any significant cut to our bottom line has a real effect on our ability to meet our mandate and achieve our goals.”

Treiss went on to discuss the commission’s research on the pay gap between men and women, outlining some of their other goals as well, including research and potential solutions on women in leadership, sex trafficking, and women’s healthcare in Connecticut.

Treiss told the Daily Campus that she was taken aback by the governor’s plans.

“He [Malloy] has a track record that would indicate, at least with regard to women’s rights, he has a good track record, and so that makes it very surprising and disappointing,” Treiss said.

The PCSW has traditionally been quite active on the issue of campus sexual assault, supporting affirmative consent bills and trying to combat and bring attention to the issue. The commission’s presence at UConn can be seen in a petition that began circling this week, drawn up in part by a third-semester economics/human rights double major at UConn and an intern for the PCSW, Ariana Javidi.

“It [the petition] basically says that we as students recognize how critical and relevant issues surrounding race, gender, sexual orientation and age are today and that the commissions are vital tools to further equality and social justice in the state,” Javidi said.

“I support upholding the legislative commissions for their imperative role in the Connecticut State Legislature in promoting equality and justice for all regardless of race, gender, sexuality, age, or any other construct,” the last paragraph of the petition reads.

He [Malloy] has a track record that would indicate, at least with regard to women’s rights, he has a good track record, and so that makes it very surprising and disappointing.
— Carolyn Trieiss, executive director for the PCSW

Students can find, examine and sign the petition in the USG office and any of the cultural centers in the student union this week.

This is not the first time the PCSW has dealt with a lack of legislative support. In 2013, Malloy attempted to consolidate the PCSW with the five other state commissions. The independent groups rallied and were able to defeat this proposal, which would have saved $800,000, or .0003 percent of the biennial budget.

These groups rejected the consolidation idea, arguing their functions were unique. Lara Sokoloff of the Yale Herald wrote at the time: “commissioners all agree that the proposal would negate the very aspects of the current system that allow it to work. Each commission’s work is very specific to its own demographic. The aims of each commission may be similar in nature; for example many of the commissions focus on increasing opportunity for all or combatting discrimination. But shared ideals do not translate into the same strategies for immediate action, and commissions do ultimately seek to support the group they represent first.”

In 2011, all state commissions, including the PCSW, had their funding cut in half and were forced to lay off staff.

In 2009, the PCSW had their budget reduced by 55 percent.

So what is Malloy’s motivation in partnering with Republicans on this issue?

“Well, the budget situation is pretty dire, so Malloy is having to make a lot of tough decisions,” Javidi said. “This could also be a political move to persuade the constituency to accept higher taxes.”

Javidi then went further, saying that this was not a move Malloy should make, considering his party and his aligning himself with women’s rights during his campaign.

“The Democrats left the legislative commissions out of their budget proposal entirely, so Malloy is alienating his own party,” Javidi said.

The PCSW has programs in place such as “Young Women Rising,” which is a leadership development program for women ages 18-35. More information can be found on the commission’s website.

Speaking to the importance of the PCSW, Palm also mentioned that the PCSW brought to the attention of a legislator the fact that there were over 900 rape kits “languishing” in police departments that weren’t getting developed in the proper way. Because of the PCSW's advocacy efforts, these rape kits are now being processed and will be utilized in future investigations.

Treiss cautioned against eliminating the PCSW and other commissions, saying it would lead to “highly effective voices” getting “silenced.”

“If you look at minority and women’s representation in our general assembly, it’s pretty abysmal,” Treiss said. “We know that the best way to have representative government is to make sure that there are individuals with access to those halls of power. All of us have as our goal to also help develop future leaders, so that they will then be the elected representative. Without the voices there, you’re not gonna have policies created that are gonna encourage others to get involved. You’ll lose that. The women of Connecticut will not be as well served.”


Sten Spinella is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at sten.spinella@uconn.edu.