Clash Over Transportation Funding [Hartford Courant]

June 2, 2014

By CHRISTOPHER KEATING | The Hartford Courant

HARTFORD — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Republican gubernatorial candidate John McKinney clashed Friday for the second consecutive day over the state budget and funding for transportation projects.

The dust-up started Thursday when McKinney criticized Malloy after a 118-year-old railroad bridge in Norwalk, known as the Walk Bridge, delayed Metro-North railroad commuters because it was stuck in the “up” position and would not close properly. McKinney blasted Malloy for “sweeping” money out of the state’s special transportation fund in order to help balance the general fund budget, but Malloy’s spokesman said that McKinney did not know what he was talking about on the budget.

“To the governor’s comment that I don’t understand the budget, I’m ready to challenge him to a debate on the budget any time – any place,” McKinney said Friday.
When told of McKinney’s remarks, Malloy responded, “I’m sure Senator McKinney would enjoy a debate, and I’m sure we’ll have one if he wins the primary. The reality is the state of Connecticut puts more revenue into transportation than that which is generated by the gas tax. That’s the fact. … They want to ignore it, but that’s the reality.”
He added, “Since I became governor, we have increased infrastructure spending related to transportation by 165 percent.”

“With respect to the bridge, if he had picked up the phone and called me, I would have told him that it is our priority with respect to [federal] Sandy relief money … and that specifically I traveled and had a conversation in Washington with the secretary of transportation concerning the Walk Bridge specifically in the last couple of weeks,” Malloy told reporters after the monthly State Bond Commission meeting. “If he had asked — but he didn’t — and I’m not surprised because he’s running for office.”

McKinney, a state senator from Fairfield for the past 16 years, is running in the Aug. 12 Republican gubernatorial primary against Greenwich business executive Tom Foley and Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton. The winner will face Malloy in the November election.

McKinney, who has studied transportation issues for years, says the state needs to spend more money on its aging transportation infrastructure.

“The reality is this governor has raided nearly $190 million from the Special Transportation Fund since he took office,” McKinney said. “He uses the money not to fix ancient bridges, or cracked rail lines, but to fill gaping holes in the state budget. Where are his priorities? It is clear he believes throwing half a billion federal dollars at a busway to nowhere is important. Those federal dollars should have been invested in our aging rail system — again, priorities.”

“Did the governor pass legislation banning future reductions or direct sweeps” from the special transportation fund? McKinney asked. “Did he put back the money he took from the fund to balance the budget? No. The reality is he did neither. As recently as May 4, Malloy took an additional $2 million that was supposed to be spent on transportation issues and chose to pay other bills. Certainly he can understand why commuters are upset.”

But Malloy’s press office disputed McKinney’s numbers, releasing an analysis that $1.365 billion had been allocated to the special transportation fund over four years.

While each side had their own numbers Friday, the ranking Senate Republican on the finance committee said Malloy’s numbers do not tell the whole story.

“While the administration says that they restored and bolstered transportation funding, they are only telling a half truth,” said Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich. “In reality, funding has simply been moved around. Some money was put in the [transportation fund], while other funds were simultaneously diverted to other projects.”