Still unwilling to offer much in the way of details Thursday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy maintained that his vision for Connecticut’s transportation future will be big. It will include widening all of Interstate 95, improving bus and rail service, and making sure money raised to improve it will stay in a “lockbox.”
The question that has emerged over the past 24 hours following the governor’s State of the State address is how he plans to fund the improvements and exactly how much money he will seek to widen the state’s highways, at the same time as he improves bus and rail systems.
Malloy hasn’t taken instituting tolls off the table, but he also hasn’t said how he plans to fund it.
During a tour Thursday of the new Meriden Intermodal Center, Malloy was asked about how much money he plans to spend. Malloy said he has a figure in mind, but he wasn’t willing to share it publicly until Feb. 18 when he delivers his budget to the General Assembly.
“Let’s make sure there’s an agreement on what we need to do, then we need to figure out how to pay for it,” Malloy said.
Malloy’s budget office asked the legislature Thursday for an additional two weeks to put together its two-year budget proposal. The legislature agreed. He said transportation is one of the reasons his budget office asked for the delay, but it’s not the only reason.
In the meantime, Malloy said there’s going to be a very serious discussion about how the state pays for the improvements and “you know me, I’m not afraid to be involved in that discussion.”
Part of that proposal will include a decision about how to make sure the revenue raised by tolls or retail and wholesale gas taxes go toward transportation projects.
Sen. Republican Leader Len Fasano said the legislature passed a bill in 2013 that attempts to make sure funding stays in the Special Transportation Fund. The legislation requires money in the Special Transportation Fund to be used only for transportation purposes. It goes into effect July 1.
“In theory, this legislation should be sufficient,” Fasano said. “But clearly the governor is concerned that the legislature cannot abide by this law. I agree with the governor that we need to do more, but only because I’ve witnessed past legislatures use gimmicks and diversions to manage transportation funds.”
Malloy said there are holes in that legislation and he’s looking to take a comprehensive approach to protecting the revenue for future generations.
“We need to take multiple steps over a period of time, again, to make sure that’s comprehensive,” Malloy said.
That includes writing it into bond covenants for transportation projects, but Malloy danced around the issue of a constitutional amendment, which he said he would support as recently as August.
Asked Thursday if he supports a constitutional amendment to make sure any revenue raised for transportation purposes is used on transportation projects, Malloy said a constitutional amendment does not become immediately effective so they are going to have to take multiple steps. A constitutional amendment must pass the General Assembly by a three-fifths majority before going to voters on the ballot in the next statewide election. At minimum, it’s a two year process.
“We’re certainly not going to wait two years to begin our program with respect to transportation,” Malloy said.
Transportation Commissioner James Redeker said Malloy’s vision will cover decades and it will be comprehensive.
The announcement of Malloy’s vision is coming after a year of discussions about what Connecticut needs to do to improve its transportation system, Redeker said. That includes widening I-95 from New York to Rhode Island.
How feasible is it to undergo a highway widening project and improve rail and bus systems?
“He never said it was going to be done next year,” Redeker said. “Twenty, 30 years.”
Inaugurated to his second term Wednesday, Malloy seems to be looking toward his legacy.
“I’ve taken on some other big issues since I’ve been governor and I’m certainly not going to waste the next four years,” Malloy said.
He said Connecticut can’t reach its full potential if it doesn’t tackle the problem.
For example, he said they’re having trouble convincing companies to move from New York City to Connecticut, instead of Westchester not because of the the tax policy or housing costs, but because of the transportation system.
“There’s no bigger issue with respect to economic viability of Connecticut than transportation,” Malloy said Thursday.