The state Bond Commission approved another $337.8 million in general obligation bonds Monday.
That means the state has bonded $1.38 billion since January. Some of the largest items on Monday’s agenda included $15 million to help school districts across that state construct the space to house their preschool programs. There’s another $36 million released for improvements to Sandy Hook Elementary School and $131.5 million to finish construction of a technology park at the University of Connecticut.
An estimated $2.75 million in funding for Waterbury Hospital for the acquisition of medical and diagnostic equipment was withdrawn because the hospital is in negotiations with a private company looking to acquire the nonprofit hospital.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told the three credit rating agencies in February that he’s increasing the amount of annual borrowing the state plans to do this calendar year to $2.5 billion, but he told Republican lawmakers Monday that he anticipates staying under that amount.
Over the past two years Malloy, who controls the Bond Commission’s agenda, set a “soft” $1.8 billion bonding cap. He exceeded that cap last year by about $170 million.
If the state borrows $2.5 billion, it will be the most money the state has ever borrowed in a single year.
“It doesn’t mean we’ll get there,” Malloy told Republican lawmakers in March. But “it doesn’t mean definitively that we won’t get beyond that,” he added.
Republicans have been critical of the amount of money Malloy plans to borrow and what it could mean for the state.
“Enough is enough,” Senate Republican leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said.
He said the more money the state borrows today will hurt future taxpayers.
“While many of the projects being funded are important, we cannot continue on this irresponsible path of simply swiping the state credit card when money is tight,” Fasano said.
But Malloy said the state has some substantial capital needs that were “underrepresented in the state’s spending plan.”
“We have a very large need to increase spending in transportation,” Malloy said.
Malloy plans to put a committee together to recommend a 30-year plan to improve Connecticut’s transportation infrastructure. He also cited a number of local school building construction projects.
But Fasano points out that “more borrowing means more debt and more instability.”
Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, said he would be surprised if the rating agencies don’t frown upon the new amount of borrowing.
“Yes, interest rates are low but that does not give us good cause to go out and borrow excessive amounts of money. We’ve got to put ourselves on a debt diet,” he said.
In March, Standard & Poor, one of three rating agencies, downgraded the outlook for the state for the first time in several years.
A spokesman for Malloy said if the Republicans feel that way about the amount of borrowing the state does for capital projects then they should vote against them.
Frantz and Rep. Chris Davis, R-East Windsor, are the only two Republican lawmakers with seats on the 10-member state Bond Commission. Monday’s votes were all unanimous in favor of borrowing for all 29 projects on the agenda.
“It’s remarkable that month after month, Republicans knock important projects – and then refuse to vote against any single one with which they supposedly disagree,” Devon Puglia, Malloy’s spokesman, said. “Then, best of all, their members blast out press releases taking credit for those exact same projects. Talk about a massive, massive lack of credibility. It’s hard to take the GOP seriously when they’re trying to have their cake, eat it too, while simultaneously saying they never wanted cake to begin with.”