HARTFORD, CT — Borrowing $40 million for improvements to the XL Center and $9.1 million for bath houses and lifeguard stands at Silver Sands State Park were two controversial items approved Wednesday by the state Bond Commission.
Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who isn’t seeking another term and didn’t negotiate the two-year state budget authorizing the bonding, defended the projects.
Rep. Chris Davis, R-Ellington, said he doesn’t like the message being sent to taxpayers by borrowing $40 million to spend it on the XL Center when the elderly and disabled are losing their health insurance.
“Are you recommending we bond operating expenses?” Malloy asked Davis.
Davis said it all comes from the “same well and that well is the taxpayer of Connecticut,” and the fact that money for capital projects comes from borrowing doesn’t “justify bonding $40 million for the XL Center.”
He said he understands the state faces a fiscal crisis, but he doesn’t believe the state should borrow for things is “wants” versus things it needs.
Malloy reminded Davis that in the bipartisan budget he supported that was negotiated by legislative leaders was a line item authorizing the $40 million for the XL Center. Davis said unlike the governor he doesn’t have the ability to line item veto parts of the budget.
“This item was in the budget that you voted for and you did not raise your voice on the floor of the House to oppose this,” Malloy said. “Your record is quite clear on this matter.”
Davis said his vote against the project as a member of the Bond Commission was his opportunity to voice his opposition Wednesday.
“In other words, you were for it before you were against it,” Malloy said.
Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, also voted against the XL Center. The item passed 7-2.
At a press conference following the meeting Malloy said he can’t imagine the region without the XL Center.
“It would disturb the economy greatly,” he added.
However, he’s not convinced that the Capital Region Development Authority, which owns the facility under a lease from the city of Hartford, will be able to convince a private company to come in and purchase the building.
Asked if $40 million is enough to attract a buyer, Malloy said, “I doubt it.”
He said he doesn’t believe there’s a market for private ownership of these types of facilities in the United States. Malloy said his proposal was to study the facility and bring in first-class consultants who have experience with these types of projects. The cost of doing that would have been about $250 million.
Malloy said to replace the XL Center would cost about $1.5 billion.
As for the $9.1 million in improvements to Silver Sands State Park in Milford, Malloy said it boils down to “one community not wanting other people to use the beaches.”
He said it’s a state park and visitors should not be forced to change their children in port-a-potties. He said it was part of an ongoing review of state properties and will be an improvement for visitors to the park.
“We’re ready, willing and able to work with the community on traffic issues and have made that clear,” Malloy said.
Eric Hammerling, executive director of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association, said there are 250,000 visitors per year to Silver Sands State Park and the improvements are necessary.
Davis said it seems like more of a “want” instead of a “need.” He said he’s heard the concerns of the Milford delegation, which held a press conference in opposition to the improvements Tuesday, and that’s why he voted against the item. Frantz also voted against the item and state Treasurer Denise Nappier abstained.
In addition to more than $500 million for school construction projects, the Bond Commission approved $1.76 million for grants to 14 municipalities, including New Haven and North Haven, to help them purchase body cameras for their police departments.
Equipping officers with body cameras was always a desire, but the additional cost of storing and managing the footage was a concern.
That’s why in 2015, Connecticut became one of the first states in the country to establish a program to help municipalities pay for police body cameras and data storage.
“It’s great to see the New Haven Police Department has joined several other police departments across the state in taking advantage of this reimbursement program,” Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said. “Community policing efforts in New Haven have increased greatly over time, and the implementation of body cameras just adds another layer of transparency and trust in the community.”