Gov. Dannel P. Malloy did not propose a specific revenue plan Wednesday to finance his long-term transportation goals, but he did file legislation to amend the state constitution to safeguard the funding once it’s collected.
Malloy used much of his State of the State address last month to advocate for a “lockbox” to prevent policymakers from diverting funds collected for transportation projects. The governor framed the policy as a prerequisite to collecting additional revenue to fund a 30-year plan to upgrade Connecticut’s transportation infrastructure.
The governor offered no transportation revenue ideas with his budget Wednesday and instead called for a commission of experts to study the issue and offer recommendations.
“By putting together a group with a very narrow focus that’s going to be looking at all the options to fund a 30-year vision, I think that’s a responsible thing to do,” Mark Ojakian, Malloy’s chief of staff, told reporters. “It’s a comprehensive proposal. It needs a comprehensive funding solution.”
But as part of his budget package, the governor filed two bills to create the lockbox. One is a change in statute that he could sign into law if it’s approved by the legislature. The other is a constitutional amendment that would need to be approved by voters after the legislature either passed it with a super majority or passed it two years in a row. In either case, it takes more than one year to amend the constitution.
Republicans contend a constitutional amendment is required to truly secure the transportation funds. Following Malloy’s January address, Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano said anything less than an amendment amounted to “a promise not to touch” the funds.
“We sweep everything we can get our hands on so unless there’s really a constitutional amendment, you can’t bind the hands of legislatures in the future,” Fasano said.
The governor has previously suggested that a statutory lockbox paired with a bond covenant would suffice to prevent raids of the transportation funds. Although he has supported the idea of an amendment in the past, Malloy said the lengthy process would not delay his plans.
“We’re certainly not going to wait two years to begin our program with respect to transportation,” he said in January.
Malloy outlined extensive infrastructure plans in Wednesday’s budget as part of a $100 billion, 30-year initiative to fix the state’s roads, bridges, and rail systems. Specific projects include replacing the aging Interstate 84 Viaduct in Hartford and the highway’s “mixmaster” in Waterbury. The governor also proposed expanding Interstate 95 from Stamford to Bridgeport and moving Route 9 near Middletown.
Malloy’s plan increases the state’s capital funding of transportation projects in the first five years, but would require additional revenue in later years. Although highway tolls have been frequently discussed as a potential revenue option, Malloy’s budget director said Wednesday he did not believe tolls would generate enough revenue to fund the plan.
“We are looking forward to having a discussion about what the best source of revenue will be,” Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes told reporters. “One thing I will tell you is I have not seen viable tolling proposals that would raise sufficient revenue to support this program.”
However, Democratic leaders in the legislature have left tolls on the table. Last month, House Speaker Brendan Sharkey called tolls a fair way of spreading the cost burden of the state’s infrastructure with out-of-state drivers who use the roads. Senate President Martin Looney said Wednesday they should be part of the revenue discussion.