HARTFORD, CT — Gov. Ned Lamont canceled another Bond Commission meeting last week. That leaves just one more scheduled meeting this year and millions in municipal projects hanging in the balance.
Lamont said his administration is talking to legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle trying to come up with a plan that includes how much the state will spend on transportation and how much it will borrow for other infrastructure projects. He wants to complete the discussion on transportation before moving to the other projects on the bond agenda.
But it’s not easy working in the off-session with a part-time legislature.
“The legislative leaders are at the table every day,” Lamont said Monday.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said that’s not true.
Klarides said she had to ask Lamont’s chief of staff for a briefing on the 10-year, $18 billion transportation plan that he’s cautiously pitching in private.
As far as the Bond Commission agenda is concerned, there has been no information beyond what was proposed in July when the Lamont administration and legislative Democrats were $100 million apart.
Office of Policy and Management Secretary Melissa McCaw said then that the governor would agree to increase his self-imposed borrowing limit from $1 billion to $1.3 billion. But that’s contingent on lawmakers making a firm commitment to $100 million per year of that general obligation bonding being used for transportation infrastructure.
Discussions have not moved beyond that point, according to legislative sources.
As far as transportation is concerned, “Nobody reached out to me,” Klarides said. “I had to ask for a meeting.”
She said by stating he’s not going to approve any bonding without an agreement on a transportation plan, Lamont is hurting cities and towns.
“You can’t hold people hostage,” Klarides said.
Lamont disagrees with the characterization of his negotiating tactic.
“The numbers have to add up,” Lamont said.
If the state borrows $700 million for transportation, then other projects on the bond agenda will have to be scaled back to account for the transportation spending. Lamont was referring to the Republicans’ plan to pay for transportation improvements without any tolls.
Lamont is still waiting on Republican support for his new 10-year, $18 billion proposal that includes a limited number of tolls.
“Governor Ned Lamont is committed to upgrading Connecticut’s infrastructure in a way that benefits all residents and all cities and towns,” Max Reiss, Lamont’s spokesman, said. “He is actively working toward a solution with members of the General Assembly, and once there is agreement on a path forward, the priorities of individual cities and towns will be recognized in a negotiated bond bill. Absent that agreement, there is no purpose for a meeting of the bond commission.”
Lamont’s new transportation plan leverages federal dollars for transportation projects in strategic areas with the best opportunity for improved economic development.
However, in order to leverage that federal funding, Connecticut will need to give the feds a guaranteed revenue stream. The state can’t afford to bond the entire amount, so a small “user fee” or toll will be required even with federal help. The number of tolls would be scaled back substantially from Lamont’s initial proposal of 50 gantries to somewhere between 13 and 18, according to sources familiar with the proposal.
Lamont said he’s getting the final feedback from legislative leaders this week on the transportation proposal.
“I think we’ll have some pretty good news at the end of this week,” Lamont said.
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said he’s been back and forth with the administration over the numbers. He said he’s getting his questions answered and giving the administration feedback about the proposal.
“Whether they took the feedback remains to be seen,” Fasano said.
So far this year, the state has borrowed $1.22 billion in general obligation bonds and there is one more meeting scheduled on Dec. 13. Bonding runs on the calendar year, not the fiscal year.
The three main infrastructure funding streams for communities — road aid for towns, Local Capital Improvement Projects, and grants for municipal projects — have not been approved yet.
“Infrastructure funding is critical to the public safety needs and economic development concerns of municipalities and their residents,” Connecticut Conference of Municipalities Executive Director Joe DeLong said.
In September, DeLong said he appreciates the governor’s efforts to address Connecticut’s transportation needs and to secure the needed adequate funding, but these grants are part of the same infrastructure picture.
“Approving these three grants proves how essential the money coming out of the Bond Commission is — it is literally the roads we drive on and the bridges we cross over,” DeLong said. “It is a dangerous waiting game being played with municipalities regarding these infrastructure funds.”