Gov. Ned Lamont Credit: Hugh McQuaid photo

The State Bond Commission borrowed $333 million in general obligation bonds Thursday, during its first meeting of the year and its first entirely in-person meeting since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In a return to form, the state’s borrowing commission filed into a first-floor conference room in the Legislative Office Building, crowded with agency staffers, lobbyists, and media. Attendees sat around paper signs taped to seats to encourage social distancing.

The panel moved quickly through its 24-item agenda, which included bonding for transportation upgrades, IT upgrades, and grants to support town construction projects. The bipartisan commission approved the items with minimal discussion.

“We just completed one of the fastest bond commission meetings in history and I think we accomplished a lot,” Gov. Ned Lamont told reporters after the meeting.

The bonding approved Thursday leaves the state about $400 million below the roughly $2 billions bonding cap for the fiscal year. Lamont said he expects the commission to meet again in June.

During the press availability, the governor took the opportunity to announce some positive economic news. The federal Commerce Department released revised state-by-state gross domestic product growth data on Wednesday, which found Connecticut’s GDP had grown by 7.7% during the fourth quarter of last year, ahead of the national average of 6.9%. 

Lamont is seeking re-election this year and his first television commercial, launched earlier this week, highlights the state’s improved fiscal situation. On Thursday, he said the healthier economic outlook enabled the bond commission to make more investments now.

“Look, I’m not putting up the mission accomplished banner because everybody knows over the last 40 years or so, we accumulated an awful lot of debt. And that was pension debt, health care, debt bonding debt,” Lamont said. “While we’re beginning to bend the curve, as they would say, in COVID days, we still have a way to go.”

After the meeting, Rep. Holly Cheeseman, an East Lyme Republican and member of the bond commission, said the some projects approved by the panel would be “game changers” in the towns that would benefit from the funding. She pointed to $1.2 million funding to help fund the completion of a senior center in Griswold.

“What’s bonding for in an election year but not to give out goodies to people?” Cheeseman said. 

For much of the last week, press aides to state legislators from both parties have sent out news releases highlighting the impact that the newly released bond funding would have on communities and districts across the state. 

In one such release, Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said the funds would help support renovations to a Montessori School in New Haven as well as upgrades to a local animal shelter.

“This state bonding will help us put more kids in early childhood classrooms, bring much-needed improvements to a community center, and provide an overhaul to our animal shelter that is in need of repair,” Looney said.

Cheeseman, meanwhile, named Looney as she was praising the State Bond Commission’s return to in-person proceedings, in contrast to the state Senate’s decision to keep the third floor of the Capitol building closed to the public. 

“I think it makes life much easier when you’re in person. So Senator Looney, are we listening?” Cheeseman said. “We did it here for the bond commission meeting. I see no reason why you shouldn’t be doing it up in your floors in the Senate.”

Earlier this month, Looney said his caucus was erring on the side of protecting its members and staff from possible COVID infection. 

“We have to be extra cautious to avoid going off the rails in terms of losing a significant part of the session,” he said.