(Updated 4:06 p.m.) Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s last Bond Commission meeting didn’t go as planned. Two constitutional officers didn’t show up and several votes remain in question as lawyers debated how many votes an item needs in order to pass.
Lt. Gov-elect Nancy Wyman, who sits on the Bond Commission in her current capacity as state comptroller, skipped Friday morning’s meeting because “there’s only one governor at a time.”
In a phone interview Friday afternoon Wyman said she thought it was better that she wasn’t there because she didn’t believe this is the “kind of agenda we need right now.”
Wyman did not point to any specific items on the agenda that she opposed, but she didn’t think “as the next lieutenant governor I should be voting for this.”
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who also didn’t attend the meeting, seemed to agree.
“I thought that it was inappropriate for me to vote on major bonding decisions just a few weeks before my leaving office and a newly elected administration assuming responsibility for huge state budget challenges,” Blumenthal said in an emailed statement.
But their absence may have thrown several votes into question as lawyers argue about whether a majority of the commissioners present or a majority of the total commission is enough to give passage to controversial items like the $81 million for 38 new rail cars.
Since Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, voted against every item on the Bond Commission agenda and was joined on some items by Rep. Cam Staples of New Haven, Sen. Eileen Daily of Westbrook, Sen. Andrew Roraback of Goshen the fate of several projects remain in question.
The $81 million to purchase 38 new rail cars passed by a 5-3 vote, but in the end it may have needed to be six votes of the 10 member board in order to receive passage. It’s still unclear what the lawyers will decide on about four or five of the votes.
Rell said she spoke with Gov.-elect Dan Malloy about the rail cars and he told her “do what you think is best,” she recalled after the meeting.
“I said I appreciate that I will,” Rell said.
This was Rell’s last Bond Commission meeting and the amount of debt service for capital improvements of everything from playgrounds to bridges was more generous than many of her previous agendas.
Rell defended the purchase of the rail cars and her bonding agenda both Friday and over the years.
“We have the ability to buy these cars and buy them at a certain price. For every month we delay in signing our name on the bottom line to okay the order we get charged an additional price every month for each car,” Rell said.
But Staples and Daily argued that delaying the purchase another month until the Malloy administration takes office won’t do much harm.
At one point during the meeting Rell compared the rail cars to a house. She said for every month you delay purchasing a house imagine it goes up by $1,000. While Daily appreciated the analogy, she said “I think the new administration should decide whether they want to move to that neighborhood or not.”
Staples said the deadline to exercise the option to purchase the cars is in 2012. He said the escalator or monthly price, per car that gets added for every month the state decides not to purchase the cars has been there for four years, so waiting one more month won’t do much harm.
“Why today? Well the answer to why today is because I think this administration wants to finish it,” Staples said. “And I understand that I’m not judging that. What I’m saying is that with an $81 million price tag with enormous issues around the budget next year, debt service, bonding issues, transportation fund issues; I’d rather have the new administration have a chance to look at the overall picture.”
“I don’t buy that the cost is automatically fixed,” Staples said. During his tenure on the Bond Commission he said he’s seen projects vary widely in price from what was initially anticipated. He said there’s nothing that prohibits the new administration from coming in and looking for a better price.