HARTFORD, CT — The state Bond Commission approved $354.6 million in general obligation bonds Tuesday.
Tuesday’s package included funding for school construction, $20 million for homeowners seeking help repairing their crumbling foundations, $15 million for bridge improvements, and $2 million to clean up a former housing project near the New London Pier.
Since the beginning of the year the state has put about $1.22 billion on the state credit card for capital projects, which is far less than the $1.97 billion it borrowed in 2018 under former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
But Lamont has yet to negotiate a bond package for 2020. The legislative session adjourned on June 5th without a plan for 2020. They did return to approve a small school construction bond package in July, but the larger bond package has been left on the back-burner.
Lamont said the state is on a debt diet, but it also has to think about how it’s going to fund transportation.
“We’re going to prioritize that in the most thoughtful way possible,” Lamont said. “We’re going to know exactly how much more we can do in the next month or so when we figure out how we’re going to pay for our transportation.”
He said if the state needs to dedicate $700 million more in borrowing for transportation then they have to figure what projects won’t get done as a result.
Democratic lawmakers are at odds with Lamont over canceling borrowing. Democrats say Lamont controls the Bond Commission agenda and can decide which projects move forward, so it’s an exercise in futility to take anything off their list.
While Lamont is struggling to negotiate a bond package with his own party, the Republicans have been left out of negotiations.
House Majority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said Monday night that Lamont can’t call Republicans into the room when he needs their votes like he tried to do with tolls after it was obvious he couldn’t get the votes. She said they need to be at the table from the beginning.
Currently, Republican lawmakers are not at the table negotiating a 2020 bond package. If transportation spending is part of that bond package then Republican lawmakers argue they should be included in those discussions.
Klarides said what happens with one-party rule is what happened with the meals tax.
Last week, the Department of Revenue Services issued guidance which says the higher 7.35% sales tax will apply on Oct. 1 to things sold in grocery stores such as rotisserie chickens, “lettuce or greens-based salads sold in containers of 8 ounces or less,” “hot dogs served on a bun or heated,” and fewer than five donuts, muffins, rolls, bagels, and pastries, to name a few.
The meals tax, according to lawmakers, was supposed to apply to food sold at restaurants, but the word “grocery” was added to the definition at some point before the budget was approved.
Democratic lawmakers said Monday that they were “shocked” to read the DRS guidance.
“If Democrats no longer want to tax groceries, they need to go into special session and undo the law they passed,” Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said. “The legislation Democrats wrote very clearly states that the sales tax will be expanded to ‘grocery stores.’ Their intention in the legislation is clear as day.”
Lamont called on DRS to review the guidance.
“I think that DRS too broadly interpreted what was the intention of the legislature,” Lamont said.
Office of Policy and Management Secretary Melissa McCaw said DRS is reviewing the guidance and will have an answer shortly about how to proceed.
“The legislation could have been written with greater specificity and that is what we intend to go back and to ensure what was negotiated in that room is reflected in the policy that is implemented,” McCaw said.
Democrat lawmakers and Lamont own this new grocery tax, Fasano said.
“They cannot blame anyone else for what is written in the budget and how it will be enforced. If they now regret their actions, they need to admit their mistakes and fix the legislation in a special session,” he added.
Republicans don’t believe the language can be changed without a legislative session.
“The only way to fix the Democrats’ grocery tax blunder is through a special legislative session. Words have meanings that survive the legislature,” Fasano said. “When a new governor comes in, a new legislature, a new DRS Commissioner, there’s no way to guarantee any side agreements will be honored. How will grocery stores be protected in future tax audits if the legislation is unclear? Changing the law is the only way to ensure the tax policy is clear not only today, but for all future years to come.”