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CT Construction Digest Tuesday October 29, 2019

Lamont Inches Toward Transportation and Bond Package

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.”

Lamont asks for ‘profile-in-courage’ from GOP on transportation
Final legislative briefings are this week

Gov. Ned Lamont told reporters Monday he is getting “final feedback” this week from legislative leaders before releasing his second try at a transportation infrastructure plan, then he challenged House Republican skeptics to reconsider their opposition to tolls or any other form of new transportation revenue.
The Lamont administration has been engaged in a give-and-take with Senate Republicans over what is expected to be a 10-year, $20 billion plan, but House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, has doubled down on her caucus’s opposition to any tolls and, possibly, any new revenue sources.
“It’s going to take a profile in courage,” Lamont said, when asked about the chances of getting House GOP support.
“So, his definition of a profile in courage is if somebody agrees with him?” Klarides replied.
Lamont has greatly scaled back his original plan, which called for a comprehensive system of electronic highway tolls on the Merritt Parkway and Interstates 84, 91 and 95 that he predicted could raise about $800 million annually. Without new revenue, Lamont said, the state’s special transportation fund is projected to run in the red in the next four years.
The administration’s revised plan calls for tolls only on select bridges, with a relatively modest  charge for passenger vehicles and a premium for trucks, according to officials who have been briefed.
Lamont said he expected to have “some pretty good news by the end of the week,” but administration officials have taken to heart the advice of House Democrats to avoid releasing the plan on a Friday. Supporters say the plan should be released early in the work week, with a strategy for promoting it. 
The original plan was presented to the public in an op-ed piece published on a holiday weekend in February. In recent weeks, Lamont and his staff have been briefing legislators and stakeholders outside government.
“The governor has done a good job reaching out to external validators,” said Rep. Roland J. Lemar, D-New Haven, the co-chair of the Transportation Committee. “He is taking his lumps by going to them, hearing their thoughts on why it failed last time.”
Ryan Drajewicz, the governor’s chief of staff, said the rollout this time will be deliberate.
“This will be done in close and careful collaboration with the legislative leadership and chairs” of the relevant committees, Drajewicz said, adding, “And preferably with both sides of the aisle.”
Klarides was briefed by the administration last week on a plan that outlines projects necessary to keep the state’s highway and transit system in a state of good repair, as well as making enhancements to improve commuting times by speeding rail and eliminating highway bottlenecks. It would limit tolls and rely in part on low-cost financing from the federal government.
 “We have been open-minded to the other parts, the non-tolls parts,” Klarides said.
But the administration has not made the case, at least in Klarides’ view, that new revenue is necessary to keep the special transportation fund solvent, nor does she agree that everything on Lamont’s priority list must be tackled immediately.
Financed largely by fuel taxes, fees and sales taxes, the fund pays for operational costs at the Department of Transportation, the Department of Motor Vehicles and debt service on transportation infrastructure.
In a telephone interview, Klarides initially ruled out any new transportation revenue, then reconsidered and said, “I shouldn’t say that. We have to dig very deep in this process.
Klarides suggested the governor’s plan is too ambitious.
“Let’s put a reasonable package of projects together,” Klarides said. “Let’s just get real for a change. Let’s stop living in a fantasy world, where you do everything at once.”
When Lamont proposed his original tolls plan, Republicans countered with a call to redirect about $700 million of the state’s current general-obligation bonds for transportation, an approach that Lamont says would rob other needs of necessary funding and fail to provide a stable source of revenue.
The Lamont administration is seeking low-cost federal financing that requires a dedicated source of repayment, and the governor said Klarides and others must recognize that tolls are the only way to guarantee that out-of-state drivers who traverse Connecticut highways will pay for their upkeep.
Lamont said without new revenue sources, Connecticut would have to use bonding — borrowed money — to pay the debt service on the federal loans, “putting it on the credit card of the next generation.”
“If that’s the only deal she’ll consider, I’d like to think a couple of other Republicans may stand up and challenge that and say, ‘We have a better plan, a plan where out-of-staters pay for 40 percent of it, a plan that is limited, but a plan that fixes our transportation system and fixes our special transportation fund, which goes under water in the next four of five years,’ ” Lamont said.
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, met a week ago with the governor and other administration officials to talk about the scope of what Lamont would like to do, as well as means of financing. He posed a series of issues and concerns, and the administration has been responding.
“You have to appreciate the fact he is trying his best to sort out some of the issues,” Fasano said.
 
NEW MILFORD — Construction is underway for the new Steers Center at Canterbury School.
The new building is 22,000 square feet and will open next fall. It will have innovation and digital analytics labs, flexible classrooms, a student center, cafe, group study and breakout spaces, a school store and the M. & D. D’Amour Center for Faith, Service and Justice. It will also feature a two-story wall of windows that look out on the Litchfield Hills.
The center is named for long-time supporters and trustees, Lauren and Bob Steers, and is years in the making.
“Lauren and I are committed to making this vision a reality,” Bob Steers said in a news release.
The idea for the project came from students’ input on what they wanted to see done to enhance the campus. Students unanimously suggested a space that could be a center for student activities and a place for day and boarding students to gather, as well as an area to work with their teachers and build growth their faith, according the release. The development of the Steers Center is part of several new construction initiatives—referred to collectively as the Hilltop Projects— taking place over the next few years.
School officials were thankful for the Steers’ support. Bob and Lauren Steers, along with Martin and Michele Cohen, went on to co-found Cohen & Steers, Inc. in 1986—the first and largest global investment manager dedicated to real estate securities.
“Simply put, Lauren and Bob’s passion for the values, program, and future of the school—in combination with their enduring and unparalleled commitment of time, talent and treasure—has defined this chapter of Canterbury’s story,” said Head of School Rachel Stone.
Bob Steers graduated from the school in 1971. His brothers, son and father are also alumni. Lauren Steers’ brother also graduated from the school. Canterbury is a Catholic college-preparatory, coeducational boarding and day school for students in grades 9-12.
“This school transformed my father’s life. It transformed my life,” Bob Steers said. “But Lauren’s and my commitment is based on more than that; it is based on our abiding belief in Canterbury’s mission to inspire students to become moral leaders in a complex, secular world.”

Lamont and Connecticut Construction Industries Association kick off campaign to raise opioid addiction awareness

Gov. Ned Lamont and the Connecticut Construction Industries Association kicked off a week-long campaign on Monday to raise awareness about opioid addiction among construction workers. Along with Attorney General William Tong and union representatives, Lamont spoke to workers at the state office renovation site by the Capitol.
“Protection on the job is bigger than just the vest you wear, the hardhat, and the training,” said Lamont. “[Addiction] is not a moral failure, not a because of some weakness ...This is a healthcare crisis.”
Between 2012 and 2018, the overall rate of opioid overdose deaths in Connecticut increased by over 220%. In August, the chief medical examiner’s office reported that 554 people died of opioid overdoses from January through June of this year. The total number of deaths in 2019 is expected to exceed last year’s total.
People who work in industries with high job-related injury rates run a greater risk of developing addictions, said John Hawley, president of the Associated General Contractors of Connecticut.
“Recent research from Massachusetts has shown that the opioid overdose death rate for construction workers is nearly 125 workers for 100,000 people,” said Hawley. “That is significantly higher than in agriculture, forestry, and fishing...and over five times higher than the average rate for general workers at 25 [workers per 100,000 people].”
Connecticut-specific data on construction worker overdoses is not yet available, but Hawley said the unions and government are working in real-time to address the issue.
“Deaths on the job site from opioid overdoses are quickly approaching the totals of the other [job site] death categories alone. That is totally, 100%, unacceptable,” said Kyle Zimmer of the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 478.
Over the next week, construction workers across the state will pause for presentations that share resources and encourage support for victims of the crisis as part of the “You Are Not Alone; There Is Help,” campaign.“It’s time to remove the stigmas and misconceptions of this horrible disease,” Hawley said. "The stand down is an opportunity for workers, construction companies, and their industry partners to have open conversations about addiction, overdose prevention, and industry safety policies.” Lamont and Tong called for big pharma to continue being held accountable for the opioid crisis. In September, Tong criticized Purdue Pharma for declaring bankruptcy. He called it "yet another cynical maneuver to try to shirk responsibility,” by the Oxycontin maker, owned by the Sackler family. “I want to thank you for taking such good care of all of us," said Tong to the workers. " And I want you to know that we understand it’s our obligation now to take care of you.”“Pill Man” Frank Huntley also made an appearance, bringing his life-sized skeleton constructed entirely of prescription pain-killer containers to the site. The former painter and wallpaper hanger who spent 15 years in addiction pleaded with the workers to actively monitor their physical health and avoid prescription painkillers.
“This has eaten me away. I only have a couple more years on this planet," said Huntley, 52. “We need to truly understand what these medications are doing to our bodies...It doesn’t matter who you are, what race you are from, [addiction] will never discriminate."
The Connecticut Construction Industries Association provided two hotlines for those struggling with addiction or thoughts of suicide. To reach the suicide prevention hotline, call 800-273-8255. To reach the addiction help hotline, call 800-563-4086.
 
PAUL HUGHES
HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont signaled Monday that he may be near releasing his latest transportation funding plan.
Lamont indicated that the governor’s office is possibly going to wrap up consultations with General Assembly leaders this week.
“We’re meeting actively with all the legislative leaders this week, rolling out our preliminary plan, getting their final feedback on what we ought to be emphasizing, and I think we’ll have some pretty good news by the end of this week,” he told reporters.
The governor confirmed again that his transportation funding plan will include a scaled back tolling proposal.
Lamont initially proposed to establish 50 tolling locations on Interstate 84, Interstate 91, Interstate 95, and the Merritt and Wilbur Cross parkways. His revised plan is expected to propose to toll bridge projects and projects that target highway bottlenecks
The Lamont administration is also going to recommend leveraging federal grants and loans to a greater degree to bolster state borrowing and existing taxes and fees supporting the Special Transportation Fund.
Transportation funding is intertwined with the ongoing discussions on a two-year bonding package. The legislature and Lamont failed to agree to a bonding bill for the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years in the regular session.
Lamont reported those negotiations continue. The holdup remains how much to allocate for transportation versus other purposes while complying with the state bonding cap and Lamont’s self-imposed borrowing limit.
“We’re talking to leadership on both sides of the aisle extensively trying to come forward with a plan,” he said.
“That plan involves how much we’re going to borrow for transportation and how much is going to be left over to do all the important things we have got to resolve, so we can start investing in our schools, clean water and affordable housing.”
He said he believes the administration and legislative leaders are getting closer to a resolution, but declined to conjecture on when a resolution might be expected.
“I don’t know. I find in this business we all agree up to the 5-yard line, and then it gets very complicated, and I’d say we’re on the 3-yard line,” Lamont said.
The governor said he wants the legislature to act in special session on the transportation funding plan, the bonding package and settlement of a tax dispute with the hospital industry.
 

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