(UPDATED 7:52 p.m.) Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he supports a constitutional lockbox for transportation funds, but he was less clear Tuesday than he was in June about the need for a special session to get the process started.
In June at a press conference near the Charter Oak Bridge, Malloy had suggested the General Assembly should meet in a special session to approve both a statutory lockbox and a constitutional amendment.
Tuesday, the call for a special session on transportation was renewed by state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, during the state Bond Commission meeting.
“I absolutely agree we need a constitutional lockbox,” Malloy said.
But the landscape has changed a bit since June. This week Republicans also have been calling for a special session so that the legislature can debate its own ideas for reducing spending in lieu of $103 million in emergency budget cuts the Malloy administration announced last week to close a deficit.
Regardless of the budget situation, time is running out to get a transportation lockbox onto the ballot before November 2016. In order to make it work, both chambers of the General Assembly would have to approve it with a three-quarters majority or they would have to approve it twice with a simple majority with an election in between. If it passes with a three-quarters majority in the regular session in 2016, it will appear as a question on the ballot in November 2016. Legislation to get the process started died on the calendar in June.
Malloy seems confident he will win enough support to pass it once during the regular session, which starts in February.
The panel created to review how to finance Malloy’s 30-year, $100 billion transportation vision won’t have its report ready for the governor and the legislature until the end of the year.
Originally, the panel was supposed to finish its work in October, but it requested an additional two months.
Cameron Staples, who chairs the panel, said that when the legislature decided to use a half-cent from the state sales tax to shore up the special transportation fund, it changed the timeline. Initially the panel was planning to have its recommendations in place this fall for a special session, but “because the fund is now solvent for the next few years, it really took pressure off us,” Staples said.
He said they are looking at meeting in November to begin putting together their draft report and a final report the first week of December.
“Our goal now is to make sure the legislature has plenty of time between our report issuance and the start of session in February to prepare to respond, understand it, and have any discussions we need to have with them,” Staples said.
“Giving them an extra two months to do some more contemplative work and to look at additional ideas that they discovered from around the country is A-OK with me,” Malloy said.
He said using the half-cent of the sales tax for the special transportation fund means the state is “ahead of where I thought we would be at this point.”
But the urgency remains to fix the state’s dilapidated roads, bridges, and rails.
Malloy said it’s one of the most important messages the state can send to the business community to let them know “we are serious about addressing our long-term shortcomings.” He said it’s one of the top three issues that come up in discussions with business leaders in all parts of the state.
Malloy said his promise to the business community and to taxpayers is that the state is not going to let transportation “drive expenses in the state and then divert those dollars to anything but transportation.”
“I think that’s a very important message,” Malloy said. “We need to get that done.”
It’s so important, Malloy said he would have conversations with both Democratic and Republican leadership “to get that done.”
Malloy made his remarks about the lockbox at the state Bond Commission meeting where it approved $170 million in special revenue bonds to help fix Connecticut’s roads, bridges, freight lines, and ferry slips. The commission also approved $17.5 million for a protected cycle track from Southern Connecticut State University to downtown New Haven, pedestrian trail connections, and money to purchase more buses for an expansion of the rapid busway services east of the Connecticut River.