HARTFORD, CT – Gov. Ned Lamont wants his transportation plan approved by the General Assembly before he releases any more funding for local road improvements to the state’s municipalities.
The agenda for Friday’s Bond Commission meeting includes $15 million for the Small Town Economic Assistance Program, $23.6 million in clean water funds for municipalities, and millions of dollars for various projects in the city of Hartford, including “improvements to the track and the installation of field lighting at Hartford Public High School.”
But the agenda doesn’t include the three main infrastructure funding streams for communities – road aid for towns, Local Capital Improvement Projects, or grants for other municipal projects.
“Cities and towns are being used as pawns by the governor, who is tying a vote on the bonding package to a vote on tolls,” Senate Republican President Len Fasano and House Minority Leader Themis Klarides said in a joint statement.
They called it “politics at its worst.”
“While a bonding meeting will happen next week, it won’t advance Town Aid Road funding and it leaves significant uncertainty about whether or not the governor really will stick with a ‘debt diet’ and what that means for cities and towns,” Fasano and Klarides said. “Instead it will start the slow drip of political handouts while the entirety of bonding for the next year remains unknown. Snow removal funds our towns count on will remain a bargaining chip to hold over lawmakers’ heads.”
Following an unrelated event at the state Capitol Wednesday, Lamont said lawmakers will tackle transportation and a 2020 bond package “early in the new year.”
He said “the week before Christmas was not the easiest time to get everyone here. We’ll get them here in January.”
Lamont has refused to act on the 2020 bond package without a vote on his transportation package.
In the meantime, the Bond Commission, still plans to meet Wednesday, Dec. 18.
What’s not on the agenda are funds budgeted for municipal road improvements.
Lamont is using the bond authorizations as a way to win support for his transportation plan.
“The Senate Democratic caucus is committed to providing cities and towns with important municipal bonding following the January special session,” Kevin Coughlin, a spokesman for the caucus, said. “Democratic senators have been working closely with town leaders and understand how critical state funding is for local governments.”
He added that the recent Democratic budget provided $100 million more in municipal funding.
Klarides said municipalities already had to draw down their reserves for summer road projects because the funding for local roads never arrived. To have to wait another month for funding will be hard, especially if there’s a lot of snow, she added. The grant program can be used for snow removal costs.
“With a combined 36 years of legislative experience and dozens of budget cycles between them, Sen. Fasano and Rep. Klarides ought know by now how the bond process works,” Max Reiss, Lamont’s communications director, said.“The state cannot allocate funding for road aid, LOCIP or certain municipal grants without the approval of a bonding package—which the governor and legislature have agreed to take up next month. Connecticut’s communities would be destabilized and certainly could not count on those funds or future municipal aid grants if we raid the Rainy Day fund at the end of the business cycle as proposed by Sen. Fasano and Rep. Klarides. Both should also understand that their previous reckless proposal to add $700 million to the state’s credit card could have crowded out these projects.”
Reiss said the Republican’s transportation alternative advocates for “raiding the Rainy Day Fund, which would slam middle-class taxpayers, and those same cities and towns in the event of a recession.”
Lamont was unable to convince the General Assembly to approve his proposal to toll four Connecticut highways and increase the amount of money for improving Connecticut’s infrastructure. He was able to strike a deal with Democratic legislative leaders last month on a $20 billion transportation plan that includes truck-only tolls as part of the financing method.
Lamont, who opened his administration announcing he was putting the state on a debt diet, has only held three Bond Commission meetings this year.
So far, the state has borrowed $1.22 billion in general obligation bonds. There’s another $131.7 million in general obligation bonds on next week’s agenda. Bonding runs on the calendar year rather than the fiscal year.
“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 has said.
In September, DeLong said he appreciated the governor’s efforts to address Connecticut’s transportation needs and to secure adequate funding, but the grants that his members are waiting on 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.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that one half of Town Aid Road had been doled out in July, but that was not correct. None of the $60 million has gone to cities and towns this year. The grant traditionally goes out to cities and towns in January and July.