HARTFORD (AP) Funding for projects such as a boardwalk in Milford or redevelopment of its Devon section could be on hold as Gov. M. Jodi Rell clamps down on how much money Connecticut borrows for capital projects.
Her budget director said in an interview with The Associated Press that Rell wants to limit bond funds for the rest of the year to mostly key projects to reduce Connecticut’s burgeoning debt service costs. Those interest and principal payments have increased every year since 1994 — growing from 6.5 percent of the state’s general fund in 1994 to 9.7 percent this year.
“Everybody says it’s too much and we’re trying to turn that ship around,” said Robert Genuario, secretary of the state Office of Policy and Management. “I think, by and large, lawmakers understand.”
The State Bond Commission, which traditionally meets monthly, will likely meet just once more before the year ends, he said.
Programs outlined in state law, such as local school construction, improvements to state colleges and universities, sewage treatment projects and open space acquisition will receive higher priority for bond money than “special requests,” Genuario said.
Not everyone in the Democratic-controlled legislature is pleased at the prospect of fewer projects okayed by the Bond Commission, which is headed by Rell, a Republican.
“There’s a lot of concern,” said House Speaker James Amann, D-Milford. “Bonding was a negotiated part of the budget. It seems that Mr. Genuario either has a lapse of memory or the governor basically wasn’t in on these conversations.”
Amann said projects that Rell may see as unnecessary, such as boardwalks or parking garages, make up approximately less than 3 percent of state bonding. In his district, for example, Amann said he worries that funding will be put on hold for revitalization efforts in Devon or to complete the Milford boardwalk.
School construction projects receive some of the largest amounts of bond funding each year, increasing from $361 million in 2001 to $600 million this year.
Since the since state budget took effect on July 1, Amann said the Bond Commission under Rell’s leadership has not approved a single bond authorization proposed by a House Democrat that was included in the negotiated two-year tax and spending plan.
“If someone doesn’t think there’s a problem with that, someone doesn’t understand that this is a democracy,” he said.
“I’m concerned about the projects that many legislators have for their communities, whether it be for economic development, whether it be improvements for their train stations, whether it be a new parking garage,” the speaker said. “All of these things are important for their communities.”
Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, said he hoped legislative bonding proposals will soon appear on the commission’s agenda soon.
“I don’t think that every legislator expects that every legislative bonding project will move forward, but by the same token we also do not expect that executive branch priorities will move forward while no legislative priorities move forward,” he said, adding how those projects are usually grassroots initiatives with a lot of support from local officials and residents.
Typically, the Bond Commission schedules approximately 11 meetings a year. Former Gov. John G. Rowland occasionally postponed meetings during difficult budget times.
This year, Rell has set five meetings but canceled five to save money. The next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 28, but Genuario said it may not be held.
Five Republicans and five Democrats are members of the commission, which includes the governor, Genuario, Public Works Commissioner James Fleming and several constitutional officers and legislators.
The commission traditionally has appeared nonpartisan, settling any differences over projects behind the scenes. But some public friction has surfaced this year, following state contracting scandals that sent Rowland to prison.
Recently, for example, there was a close vote over a contentious $54-million juvenile justice facility in Bridgeport that Amann opposes and Rell supports. The project was approved, 6 to 4.
Amann said he trusts Rell for now, hoping more projects will appear on the next commission agenda. Failing that, Democrats may have to use their five votes as a bloc, he said.
“If it has to become political, we will,” he said.
The state’s debt increased by 13 percent in the last three years, to $12.7 billion. That averages to approximately $3,600 for each Connecticut resident, ranking the state No. 1 in average debt per person by Moody’s Investor Service. Connecticut also outpaced other states in the rate of rising tax-supported debt, which increased nationwide by 11.5 percent, according to Moody’s.