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CT Construction Digest Thursday February 6, 2020

Lamont eases up on debt diet to win support for truck tolls

Gov. Ned Lamont cheated on his debt diet Wednesday to win legislators’ support for truck tolls, but it remains to be seen whether pork-barrel spending is on the menu.
The administration failed last spring to reach a deal with lawmakers on how much to borrow this fiscal year and next.
On Wednesday, Lamont upped the ante, adding an average of $442 million to his two-year bonding proposal. That’s about 20% more than he insisted Connecticut could afford when he took office last year.
Lamont now is recommending $2.5 billion in borrowing for the fiscal year than ends June 30, and $2.61 billion for 2020-21. But not all of that is controversial.
At issue is a subset of those proposals, about $1.4 billion each year in general obligation (G.O.) bonding. This involves borrowing which, if approved, would have to be paid out of the General Fund, the same part of the budget that supports municipal aid, higher education, social services and other popular programs.
The $1.4 billion in annual G.O. bonding Lamont now endorses is earmarked for job development and other economic development initiatives, affordable housing, renovations to courthouses and other state facilities, and grants for libraries and nonprofit social service agencies.
The Democratic governor is hoping that his fellow Democrats in the legislature will be appeased by this enough to support a major transportation rebuilding program.
If truck tolls or some other new revenue stream for transportation construction isn’t approved, Lamont said he would have to curb borrowing in most areas and focus a greater share of Connecticut’s bonding program toward rebuilding its highways, bridges and rail lines.
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers, who oppose tolls but favor less overall borrowing, are worried not just about Lamont’s new willingness to borrow, but whether some of it will go toward pork-barrel spending.
“The governor went way off his debt diet,” Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said Wednesday. When it became clear  last week that Lamont would accept more bonding, the GOP leader charged the governor with “buying votes” for tolls. Democratic leaders say they don’t expect a vote on tolls until later this month.
The definition of pork varies greatly from legislator to legislator, but it generally refers to bonding in two categories:
  • Smaller projects in select legislators’ districts that most other communities would have to pay for themselves. This could be repairs to a senior center roof or a new sports field at a town high school.
  • Additional funding for a state priority, but only in an influential legislator’s district. For example, the state may make small business assistance grants available in several regions, but might focus extra funding in one area at a legislator’s behest.
The best way to test for pork, Fasano and other Republicans say, is to provide as much detail as possible about the borrowing Lamont is seeking over the next 17 months.
“I think they want to keep that under wraps because they don’t want us to know who got what for a vote” of support on tolls, Fasano added.
Melissa McCaw, Lamont’s budget director, said the budget and bond package the administration unveiled Wednesday “continues the good work that is underway. … Connecticut is on a strong financial path.”
The Lamont administration released its budget and bond package summaries Wednesday, and Chris McClure, spokesman for the budget office, said the governor’s proposed bonding bill would be released Thursday.

Lamont pleads for vote on ‘truck tolls,’ legislative leaders postpone it again

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Calling it the “elephant in the room,” Governor Ned Lamont pleaded with state lawmakers in his State of the State address to call a vote on his “truck toll” plan. But almost immediately following the speech, top Democratic leaders telling News 8, the vote on the plan has been delayed again.
During his speech to the General Assembly, the governor saying, “Having the best workforce and the best workplaces doesn’t matter unless you can actually get to work.” The governor acknowledging during his speech that his tolls on large trucks plan, to pay for his signature transportation initiative, is still stalled adding, “I know it’s the elephant in the room…and you’re in the room where it happens and that means casting a vote, making up your mind and getting this going.”
But Democratic leaders admitted after the speech that a potential vote has been delayed again until at least the week of Feb. 18 after the President’s Day holiday. Senate President Pro tem, Sen. Martin Looney (D-New Haven) adding, “We both have the same goal, to get this done because there are many other issues that we want to deal with in ’20 and we want to get the transportation issue resolved.” But Republicans, who are universally opposed to the plan, say with every delay it becomes clear that the Democrats don’t have the votes to pass it on their own. Senate Minority Leader Sen. Len Fasano (R-North Haven) saying, “I heard some Bridgeport folks were moving away from the bill because a train station in Bridgeport was removed.” The governor said Monday he wasn’t interested in the second train station.
Fasano adding, “And I know the Waterbury delegation is not happy.” House Minority Leader Rep. Themis Klarides (R-Derby) adding, “Every day that goes by there’s more and more fear by every legislator in this building that voting for tolls will hurt them in November.”
But the Speaker of the House, Rep. Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin) insists he has the votes, that it is just a scheduling issue saying, “People work other jobs, they have obligations, they plan their work obligations around this. We have a flu, I don’t want to say epidemic, but we have many members out sick with the flu. It’s just a scheduling issue.”

Lamont proposes $55M for XL Center upgrades
Joe Cooper
ov. Ned Lamont on Wednesday unveiled a revised fiscal year 2021 budget plan that sets aside $55 million in bond funding to upgrade downtown Hartford’s aging XL Center.
The $22.3 billion budget’s capital plan earmarks $27.5 million in the current fiscal year and the next to renovate and improve the 16,000-seat arena. Both chambers of the General Assembly and the State Bond Commission would need to approve the proposed borrowing for the venue.
The allocation is just shy of a proposed $60 million bonding package for the arena that state lawmakers did not vote on during last year’s legislative session.
However, both public funding options would fall short of addressing the long-term viability of the arena.
Meantime, the quasi-public Capital Region Development Authority (CRDA) recently commissioned a study to examine demand for the venue. Officials hope the study could encourage a potential public-private partnership that would help relieve the state and taxpayers from shouldering future investments.
CRDA’s board of directors is expected to discuss the drafted study at its regular meeting later this month.

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