Legislature adopts financing for education, job initiatives [CT Mirror]

May 7, 2014

By: Keith M. Phaneuf and Jacqueline Rabe Thomas | CT Mirror

The legislature approved a major financing bill late Tuesday that dramatically expands pre-school programs in public schools and tackles overdue repairs and renovations at the state universities and community colleges.

The measure, which includes $953 million in new financing in the 2014-15 fiscal year, cleared the Democratic-controlled House and Senate, both by wide margins and with bipartisan support.

The House voted 136-8 to adopt the measure shortly before 11:20 p.m. The Senate had approved the bill 30-6 two hours earlier.

The bill, which now heads to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s desk, also continues investments in a job growth incentives for small businesses and other economic development programs.

“It touches so many parts (of Connecticut) and not just in government,” said Sen. Andrea L. Stillman, D-Waterford, co-chairwoman of the legislature’s bonding subcommittee, who added that the bill is focused on “improving the quality of life in Connecticut.”

With a focus on education and job growth, the bond package “reflects the priorities of this legislature and our governor,” said Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, co-chairman of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee.

Rep. Livvy Floren of Greenwich, the ranking GOP representative on the bonding subcommittee, said the package offers “better educational opportunities for students of all ages, more jobs, better jobs … cleaner air, cleaner water and preserved open space.”

Sen. L. Scott Frantz of Greenwich, one of six Republican senators to vote against the bill, praised the Democratic majority for the quality of programs in the bond package, but said something still has to be done about the state’s heavily loaded credit card.

“There isn’t a bad project in here,” Frantz said. But with about $21 billion in bonded debt, Connecticut has one of the highest debt levels, per capita, of any state.

“I would give a plea that all of us think twice,” about pursuing more bonding in the future, Frantz added. “We really, really need to keep our eyes focused on what our debt levels are.”

The measure authorizes $105 million in total bonding over the next decade to add pre-school slots in public schools. Senate Democrats, who proposed the investment, estimate these funds could create up to 50,000 slots over the next decade.

The bill authorizes $15 million of that $105 million for use in the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The bonding is designed to complement $9.5 million in operating cash in the new state budget that would increase school readiness program slots in both public and private schools over the next year by 1,020.

Higher education also got a big assist in the new bond package, particularly the Board of Regents for Higher Education system, which includes four state universities and the community colleges.

The new budget enacted last week already designated $42 million in new operating funds for Transform CSCU 2020, an initiative to shore up the system’s budget. Officials hope to lure new students to enroll by offering them a free course their first semester.

To complement this effort, the bond package authorizes $80 million in new financing in 2014-15 and $23.5 million in 2015-16 for capital projects in the system, particularly to catch up on long-deferred renovations.

Besides education, the bond package also designated major financing for economic development.

It includes another $10 million for the Subsidized Training and Employment Program (STEP), which provides subsidies to small businesses to help create new jobs.

And it also features $130 million for the grants to assist Connecticut manufacturers and to enhance research and development efforts.
Other projects to receive financing through the bond package include:

  • $50 million for clean drinking water projects;
  • $30 million for grants to private, nonprofit social service providers;
  • $22 million for local school districts for security improvement projects;
  • $20 million for grants to municipalities to fund public park and other recreational enhancements;
  • $9.9 million for start-up costs for new magnet schools tied to the state’s effort to desegregate the Hartford school system;
  • $3.2 million for production and studio equipment for The Connecticut Network, the public access cable channel that covers Capitol events and other state government proceedings.