Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy made no apologies for borrowing $188.6 million for a variety of projects, including a bronze statute of the late Walter ‘Doc’ Hurley and a monument to the 65th Infantry Regiment known as the Borinqueneers.
“What I think people have forgotten is bonding is investment,” Malloy said.
He said he keeps waiting for Republicans lawmakers to oppose borrowing for school construction, which makes up the largest portion of the state’s bonded debt when it comes to non-revenue bonds.
The two Republican lawmakers, who are members of the Bond Commission, said they’re not against funding school construction, but they feel each project should be scrutinized.
“Statues? Is that the proper use of state bond funding? Probably not right now,” Rep. Chris Davis, R-East Windsor, said.
The statute of Hurley, a former school administrator from Weaver High School who started a scholarship fund, and the monument to the Borinqueneers were part of a larger agenda item that also included funding to improve Hartford’s flood control systems along the Connecticut River.
Given an opportunity by the governor to explain what items he opposed, Davis declined.
After Tuesday’s Bond Commission meeting, Davis told reporters that $5 million for flood control in the city of Hartford is the proper use of state bond money. However, he opposed the commissioning of statutes, money for the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, and money for the Boys and Girls Club in Stamford.
Malloy pointed out that there’s a reality that “the vast, vast majority of statuary that has been built in Connecticut and paid for with public or private dollars, is to white men.”
So while some may oppose borrowing to cover the costs of statues and monuments “sometimes it makes sense to mark the accomplishments and the passing of black men and Puerto Rican soldiers,” Malloy said.
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said he was disappointed at Malloy’s remarks.
“At a time when racial tensions in the country are at an all-time high, I am disappointed to see the leader of our state adding fuel to the fire,” Fasano said. “When I look at the many veterans memorials here at the Capitol and across the state, I see them as honoring all veterans of all races from all backgrounds. To suggest that the state’s many veteran monuments and other memorials only honor white men is offensive to all those who served our nation and who are recognized by the many monuments around our state.”
Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, the other Republican member of the commission, said he’s not in favor of any more borrowing. Period.
Frantz said there should be a “moratorium” on borrowing until the state can get its fiscal house in order.
He said the governor is trying to paint the Republicans as “wanting to have their cake and eating it too.” However, Frantz said he makes it clear at the end of every bond commission meeting that he’s not in favor of any more borrowing.
Why not vote against the items individually when they are raised for a vote?
“It’s a conscious decision on my part to not to slow the meeting down,” by picking the agenda apart or by voting against every item, Frantz said.
Frantz said he makes it clear at the end of every meeting that he opposes all the borrowing.
“I know it’s not the way the Bond Commission has worked in the past,” Frantz admitted. “But I choose to voice my opposition to overborrowing by doing it that way.”
Don Shubert, president of the Connecticut Construction Industries Association, said a moratorium is a dangerous proposition.
He said a moratorium would interrupt the state’s “much needed transportation program.”
Shubert said enhancing transportation will “boost the economy in the short-term by creating construction jobs” and over the long-term by improving the ability of Connecticut residents to navigate the state.
Malloy has said the state plans to borrow $2.7 billion this calendar year, which is $200 million more than it borrowed last year.
As of Tuesday, the state had bonded $2.1 billion.
Republicans maintain that the amount of borrowing ignores the fiscal reality the state is facing.
Two months ago, the General Assembly cancelled approximately $900 million in general obligation bonds.
“There’s a new economic reality in America of slow growth,” Malloy said Tuesday.
He said everyone had hoped the recession would unfold as previous recessions, but the world has been fundamentally changed by technology, competition, and damage that was done by the Great Recession.
The state, according to Malloy, is adjusting to that new economic reality, which has forced state parks to reduce their hours of operation and has led to the layoffs of about 749 executive branch and 300 judicial branch employees.
The state is also seeing higher-than-anticipated retirement filings, with approximately 947 requests filed since April 1 on a total of 1,453 retirements so far this year. That means almost 1,996 state employees have left state service or are about to leave state service and their positions are not being refilled. Overall, the pace of retirement filings by state employees is 29 percent more than it was in 2015 for the first six months of the year.