The state Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution to start the process of amending the state Constitution to create a “lockbox” for transportation funds, but the House only passed it with a simple majority. As a result, the amendment won’t appear on the ballot in 2016.
Three-quarters of Connecticut’s General Assembly needed to approve the measure to send it to voters in November 2016.
The House approved the measure on a bipartisan basis with a 100-40 vote, but it needed to pass the resolution with 114 votes in order to meet the three-quarter threshold for a constitutional amendment. Three Democratic lawmakers voted against it and 26 Republicans voted in favor of it.
The resolution can be raised again in 2017 for a vote and, if approved by a simple majority, it will go to voters for approval in 2018.
Late Monday a member of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s Transportation Finance Panel questioned the wisdom of taking up the resolution in a special session.
R. Nelson “Oz” Griebel, president and CEO of the MetroHartford Alliance, wrote a letter to Malloy on Monday asking him to postpone a vote on a constitutional amendment for transportation funds. He asked Malloy to wait until after the panel made its recommendations in January.
Several lawmakers agreed.
“What’s the bum’s rush? Why are we doing this now in a special session?” Rep. Bob Godfrey, D-Danbury, said referring to Griebel’s letter.
He said the resolution could be raised during the regular session, which starts in January.
“This language, from a lawyerly point of view, is really bad,” Godfrey said. “It doesn’t lock anything.”
He said he believes what this debate is really about is tolls, which he opposes.
“I can see this going before the public, getting passed because it sounds good, and having to have tolls to fill up the lockbox,” Godfrey said. “No, I’m not buying that personally.”
Under the resolution, the legislature will define what type of revenue gets locked up in the special transportation fund.
“The general assembly shall direct the resources of said fund solely for transportation purposes, including the payment of debt service on obligations of the state incurred for transportation purposes,” the resolution states. “Sources of funds, moneys and receipts of the state credited, deposited or transferred to said fund by state law on or after the effective date of this amendment shall be credited, deposited or transferred to the Special Transportation Fund, so long as such sources are authorized by statute to be collected or received by the state, or any officer thereof, and the general assembly shall enact no law authorizing the resources of said fund to be expended other than for transportation purposes.”
The revenue sources that will get locked up weren’t identified in the language of the resolution.
“The loopholes in this, and I can’t resist this, are big enough to drive a truck through,” Godfrey said. “It simply does not work.”
Rep. Arthur O’Neill, R-Waterbury, said that like the constitutional spending cap there’s no way to actually lock these transportation funds away.
“The resolution that is before us is not an enforceable proposal,” O’Neill said.
Rep. Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, said they’ve been trying to pass a lockbox for years and Tuesday’s resolution was “not perfect, but it’s a start.”
He said the legislature can come back and say what money goes into that lockbox.
Even though Guerrera supports tolls, maybe if there was a lockbox in place they wouldn’t need tolls, he suggested.
He said when Connecticut’s highways crumble and there are fatalities, they will be back in the the room asking what they could have done. He said passing the lockbox resolution is a start so they can get to work on improving the state’s transportation infrastructure.
“We are no doubt going to keep pressing forward to get a lockbox in our state’s constitution to protect the investment the people of Connecticut are making in our economic future,” Devon Puglia, a spokesman for Malloy, said Tuesday.