With the next legislative session only weeks away, lawmakers have begun submitting bills for 2011. One such bill, submitted by Rep. John Hetherington, R-New Canaan, is aimed at tightening the state’s fiscal belt by imposing a moratorium on most general obligation bonds until 2013.
In a phone interview Monday, Hetherington said the idea isn’t to stop all borrowing, just borrowing to finance earmarked spending pushed by lawmakers to benefit specific constituencies. He used building a gazebo as an example but said the spending takes many forms.
“They are earmarks just pure and simple. They’re earmarks for often frivolous things that are simply a way of a legislator showing his constituents what he or she can bring back to the district,” he said. “I think we ought to issue no further bonds unless they benefit the state as a whole. It has to be a purpose that will benefit the entire state not just one particular community.”
Hetherington said transportation spending was an example of borrowing that could benefit the whole state even if they seem to help certain districts more than others. He said the rail car project, the final stage of which failed to pass a Bond Commission vote on Dec. 10 when two members of the commission were absent, would have been borrowing allowable under the moratorium.
Along with allowing bonds that help the entire state, the bill includes another exception to allow allocations to ongoing programs and projects.
Hetherington said he expects to find support for the bill among fellow Republicans but thought it might even get some consideration across the aisle.
“I would hope that even some Democrats would get on board with this. Even though they’re the majority and some direct these earmarks, I think they must agree also that this is just not a time to be wasting money, particularly on what we can’t afford,” he said.
In the past Democrat Gov.-elect Dan Malloy has suggested that use of some borrowing may help to stimulate the state’s lagging economy and create jobs. While Malloy has reserved judgment on specific bills until he has had the opportunity to see the finished products, a statement from his spokeswoman Colleen Flanagan was not too far removed from the fiscally conservative language used by Hetherington.
“We need to limit our use of debt to financing investments in infrastructure, facilities and the like that will support job growth, prosperity, and Connecticut’s quality of life. We need to avoid using debt as a way to dodge making tough decisions about taxing and spending. Governor-Elect Malloy will make the smart investments needed to get Connecticut’s fiscal house in order and create new jobs,” she said in an email.
“I would hope that he would take a serious look at it,” Hetherington said of Malloy, “because a stimulus plan arguably could benefit the whole state and employment but building a gazebo may create some work but it doesn’t generate jobs in a broad sense.
In an unprecedented act of fiscal constraint the legislature voted last year to deauthorize more than $422 million in previously approved bonding projects.