HARTFORD, CT — Department of Transportation Commissioner Joseph Giulietti on Monday told a subcommittee of the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee that it’s up to them to decide how much money to spend on Connecticut’s transportation infrastructure.
Gov. Ned Lamont authorized $806.6 million in bonding in 2020 and another $812.4 million in 2021 for transportation projects.
At the moment it’s spending about $1.6 billion on transportation annually, but that’s just enough to maintain Connecticut’s roads and bridges as they currently exist.
“At our current levels of funding, we’re more or less standing still,” Mark Rolfe, chief of the DOT’s Bureau of Construction and Engineering, told the subcommittee Monday.
Giulietti said he has to be “concerned” about the “bond diet” Lamont proposed, but what they’re constantly evaluating is whether a specific project is a good investment for the state.
“I think everybody supports the governor’s plan for a debt diet,” Rep. Laura Devlin, R-Fairfield, said. “But I’m under the belief that 20-year plus transportation infrastructure projects are the appropriate place for bonding.”
As part of his budget proposal Lamont removed the $250 million in general obligation bonds the bipartisan budget had earmarked for transportation infrastructure. He also capped the amount of new car sales taxes going into the Special Transportation Fund, which will make the Special Transportation Fund almost insolvent by 2022.
Less than 30 days after Lamont was inaugurated, an unnamed bureaucrat inside the Department of Transportation wrote a memo to detail the impact of the reduction of $250 million in bonding. The document, which was written before Lamont redirected funds from the sales tax on new cars, found that the limit on bonding would “have significant impacts on our Capital Program, severely constricting the number of new projects that advance in the current, and future years.
Giulietti said they are still revising their overall plan in relation to Lamont’s proposal to redirect the funds from sales taxes on new cars and were unable to say what projects were reprioritized as a result.
Lamont’s budget proposal says the reduction in general obligation bonds “will not significantly impact the state’s transportation infrastructure.”
Giulietti said they have an “ongoing dialogue” with the Lamont’s budget team regarding what projects will advance and which may be delayed.
Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, said it’s up to the legislature to decide how to release the funding, whether its general obligation or special transportation obligation bonds.
He said most of those discussions will take place during budget negotiations, which will involve a small number of people behind closed doors.
“To be clear, the $250 million in GO bonding buys us some additional time, but it’s not a forward-looking, sustainable solution,” Colleen Flanagan Johnson, Lamont’s senior adviser, said. “We’re open to talking about this if there is a commitment to a long-term solution that doesn’t solely rely on Connecticut taxpayers footing 100% of the bill.”
Giulietti said his job is to tell the committee what his department needs in terms of funds and what the return on investment will be for those projects.
“I understand and support the governor’s goal of providing sufficient funding for transportation projects to secure the safety and preservation of Connecticut’s transportation system, while living within the constraints of a debt diet, until a long-term sustainable revenue solution is in place that will support larger infrastructure investments,” Giulietti said.
The Transportation Bonding subcommittee didn’t broach the issue of tolls or other revenue streams Monday with Giulietti.
The Transportation Committee passed three bills to implement electronic tolls earlier this year.
Leone said those bills will be consolidated into one at some point once the proposals are fully fleshed out through the legislative process.
The issue of tolls has become partisan, but it’s still unclear whether there’s enough support for the concept among House Democrats.
The internal DOT document says it will take four years to approve, design, and construct a toll system, and that the state will receive partial revenue in years five and six. Full revenue from toll operations won’t be achieved until year seven.
Until then, the DOT, according to the memo needs about $2 billion a year in federal and state funding in order to maintain the current system, while not falling behind on a list of improvement projects.