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Concerns Raised About Lack of Borrowing for Transportation in Connecticut

Wed August 28, 2019 - Northeast Edition #18

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) Connecticut's municipal leaders are raising concerns about the lack of state borrowing authorizations, noting the slowdown has affected local repaving and other transportation-related projects.

While the General Assembly passed a two-year budget on time this year, lawmakers have yet to finalize the general bonding portion of the budget for this fiscal year and next fiscal year, with negotiations continuing. And the State Bond Commission, which ultimately doles out bond authorizations for capital projects, has met twice since Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont took office in January. No meetings have been scheduled yet for the rest of the year.

Lamont, who chairs the panel, has made it a priority to reduce the state's bonded indebtedness — calling it his "debt diet" — and has canceled many of the meetings that were traditionally held monthly in prior administrations.

"Towns and cities in Connecticut are reliant on the state to get them their necessary state funds on time," said Connecticut Conference of Municipalities spokesman Kevin Maloney, adding how municipalities are awaiting a total of $90 million in infrastructure-related grants from the state. "Without any approvals, they force towns to expend their own fund for repaving and other transportation related projects — many of which are time sensitive and must be completed before winter sets in."

Max Reiss, Lamont's communications director, said there are "many factors at play" when trying to schedule Bond Commission meetings, including the needs of the state and the ability to have enough members on hand to ensure a quorum. He didn't rule out some funding ultimately being released by the panel.

"The Bond Commission can still authorize past allocations that have not been canceled, so the state can continue with some prior authorizations without a new bond package," Reiss said. "Governor Lamont is committed to devoting serious time, effort, and capital into transportation investments, as those kinds of projects will help get Connecticut's economy moving again."

Don Shubert, president of the Connecticut Construction Industries Association noted that construction jobs in Connecticut are slipping in the middle of the construction season. There were 58,500 construction jobs in the state in July 2018, compared to 57,000 in July of this year. On a month-to-month basis, construction employment continued to decline by 0.5 percent in July, or a loss of 300 jobs.

But he said it's unclear whether the state's bonding situation is to blame, adding "we haven't been able to make that connection."

Judd Everhart, spokesman of the state's Department of Transportation, said the agency "could be making decisions on which capital projects to delay or postpone" if bond funding isn't released by the end of the 2019 calendar year. But he said the department is "OK for now."

The transportation department's capital program includes projects that are funded entirely with state money and projects that receive federal funding but require a state match, typically 20 percent.

"We cannot get the federal funding without first showing that the state match is in place," Everhart said. In a typical year, the department receives about $750 million in federal funding for its various projects, which is matched by about $150 million in state bonds. "Timely approval of the DOT capital budget will provide an unimpeded implementation of the combined state and federal capital program. The construction industry expects this to occur," he added.

Everhart said the first significant project that could run into funding problems would be the Rochambeau Bridge on Interstate 84 over the Housatonic River, between Southbury and Newtown. The approximate $70 million project is scheduled to be advertised in mid-December.

"Until the fiscal year 2020 capital budget is passed and a Bond Commission meeting is held, we do not have the funds available to advance this project," Everhart said.

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