State Treasurer Erick Russell was scheduled to continue Thursday an ongoing tour of Connecticut communities in events designed to promote CT Baby Bonds, a 2021 impoverished child investment program, which currently has no clear source of funding.
Russell joined other members of the State Bond Commission for a morning meeting at the Legislative Office Building, where he voted to approve a 36-item agenda including borrowing to fund things like HVAC grants for Connecticut schools.
The agenda did not include funding for CT Baby Bonds and it’s unlikely any subsequent agenda will fund the program before it is scheduled to go into effect in July after an earlier delay. That’s because Gov. Ned Lamont, chair of the bonding panel, has declined to place any of the $600 million approved by the legislature on the committee’s agenda.
Russell tours nonetheless. That afternoon, he was scheduled to appear in Hartford with House Speaker Matt Ritter to discuss the baby bonds — an initiative to set aside a bond for each infant born to a low-income household in an effort to provide that child a significant amount of money to invest when they turn 18.
Since March, Russell’s made similar stops with sympathetic legislators in Milford, Norwich, Waterbury, Willimantic, and Windsor.
“We feel very optimistic about it,” he said after the commission meeting wrapped up. “We’re continuing that work, partnering with legislators. Part of this is about informing the community about the program, which is set to start on July 1 and it’s continuing to build support and make sure we have funding built into this year’s budget.”
At the moment, it’s unclear where that funding will come from. As it was passed by lawmakers, the program relies on $50 million in borrowing a year for 12 years. On Thursday, the governor reaffirmed his objections to borrowing the money.
“I think the treasurer and I agree, this is probably not appropriate for bonding,” he said. “It would have to be a General Fund expenditure. As you know, I prefer things that help people right now.”
If the legislature decided it wanted to divert money from more immediate assistance programs like housing, vocational, and higher education benefits, Lamont said he was open to the conversation. Asked if he was committed to finding a way to fund the baby bonds program, Lamont pointed to competing interests.
“Look, at this stage of the game, you gotta set priorities and my number one priority is to help people here and now, do everything I can to help them in terms of education, in terms of day care, in terms of work force and in terms of housing,” he said.
In January, the CT Mirror published a detailed account of behind-the-scenes efforts by the governor’s administration to stall the program, which was championed by Russell’s predecessor, Shawn Wooden.
The report referenced text messages between the governor’s top advisors at the time, who suggested that Russell would meet resistance if he opted to pursue implementing the program.
On Thursday, Russell described his discussions with the Lamont administration on the subject as collaborative. He said his office was open to discussing alternative ways to fund the baby bonds.
“We’re having a conversation — a very open conversation around different ways to fund the program,” Russell said. “I think there are more efficient ways to fund the program overall, even if we are bonding all or a portion of the program. There’s some things we are discussing right now where we could fund the program, big picture, at a lower cost.”