Connecticut Attorney General's Office

Press Release

Attorney General Informs Gov, Lawmakers Diverting Long Island Sound License Plate Funds Is Illegal

October 1, 2009

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal today informed Gov. M. Jodi Rell and legislative leaders that funds raised before today for the Long Island Sound license plate program cannot be diverted into the General Fund.

Blumenthal said the Long Island Sound license plate fund qualifies as a charity under state law, requiring the state to expend moneys consistent with promises made to donors. Drivers purchased the plates on the understanding the additional $50 to $125 cost would fund programs to protect Long Island Sound.

The General Assembly changed the law so that as of today all proceeds from the license plates go to the General Fund. Blumenthal said that law is valid, but all moneys collected under the program before October 1 must be spent on the Sound.

Blumenthal urged the legislature to repeal the change and again specifically allocate moneys raised by the program, instituted in 1992, for Long Island Sound.

In a letter to Rell, Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, and Speaker of the House Christopher Donovan, D-Meriden, Blumenthal said, "I conclude that Article Second of the Connecticut Constitution prohibits the governor and the General Assembly from transferring funds that were deposited into the Long Island Sound account prior to the effective date of the amendment of October 1, 2009.

"Such transfer would be contrary to the explicit and specific intent of donors and would therefore violate our state Constitution. If it is retained, this provision must be clarified to ensure that only funds collected after the effective date of the amendment may be legally deposited into the General Fund.

"As the language of Conn. Gen. Stat. ยงยง 14-21e and 22a-27k and their legislative history make clear, the legislative intent in issuing Long Island Sound commemorative license plates and creating the Long Island Sound account was to enable the public to make voluntary donations over and above the regular fee for the license plates -- to be used only for specific environmental purposes related to the preservation of Long Island Sound.

"Under Connecticut law, donations must be used for the purposes for which they were donated. Under Article Second of the Connecticut Constitution, regarding the separation of powers, the Judicial Branch has sole authority to alter the purposes of a donor's intent. Thus, neither the governor nor the legislature has constitutional authority to alter the purpose of a gift or donation. The donor in this instance is the Connecticut resident who responded to the State's invitation (a "solicitation") to make a donation to the purpose of the Long Island Sound Fund. Using the donated monies contrary to that intent is illegal.

"Finally, as a matter of policy, I respectfully suggest that taking these additional registration fees for General Fund purposes is unwise and unnecessary. The integrity of the Long Island Sound fund program has been seriously undermined and its viability jeopardized by the diversion of this money from this dedicated fund. The relatively small amount of revenue from the transfer under section 392 of Public Act 09-3, June Special Session, cannot justify the cost to public faith and trust in the Long Island Sound program and our entire state government," Blumenthal said in the letter.