Republicans challenge Malloy transportation funding proposal [JI]

May 19, 2015

Article as it appeared in the Journal Inquirer

HARTFORD — Republicans on Monday told a panel reviewing transportation funding that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s $1 billion transportation plan is beyond the state’s resources, and that the group instead should favor a plan they presented in February.

In that plan, Republicans proposed freeing up money in the state’s current bonding plan to borrow $37.4 billion over the next 30 years for transportation projects.

“Look, I would be in a 25,000-square-foot house with an indoor swimming pool, outdoor swimming pool, a bubble on my tennis court, and looking at Long Island Sound” if it was affordable, Senate Minority Leader Leonard Fasano, R-North Haven, said. “The reality is I can’t afford that, and if we’re looking at a $100 billion project and we can’t afford it, then what are we doing? This is just not getting us where we’ve got to be.”

Fasano said the Republicans’ plan would free up $441 million in bonding next year for the state to add to the $600 million that it already borrows annually for transportation.

He said the plan would free up a total of $15.8 billion in bonding over the next 30 years, which, when combined with what the State Bond Commission already authorizes, would result in $37.4 billion.

But a Malloy spokesman was critical of the Republicans’ plan by pointing to its reliance on cutting borrowing for school construction, clean water grants, and other typical recipients of bond authorizations.

“As the governor has said, he is willing to listen to all serious proposals on the table,” the spokesman, Devon Puglia, said. “The problem with the GOP plan on transportation is that it’s just not serious. Like many of the documents we’ve seen from the Republicans, there’s an issue of basic math — tell everyone how great your plan is while failing to show how to pay for it.”

Puglia also said that the level of funding posed by Republicans “neither gets us where we need to go” nor would it fund the “basic maintenance for our existing roads and infrastructure. If we want a best-in-class transportation that will build a stronger economy for decades to come, this is not a serious plan.”

Malloy’s plan includes a combined $12.3 billion to replace bridges along Interstate 84 in Hartford and Waterbury, $18.7 billion to replace bridges that are or will be structurally deficient in 20 years, and $11.2 billion to widen Interstate 95 throughout southern Connecticut.

He has said that some projects would address unsafe or outdated roads, while others would improve the state’s economy by improving access to all corners or reducing congestion.

But Fasano and Rep. Christopher Davis, R-Ellington, a ranking Republican on the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee, said the state can’t afford to pay for those projects and should prioritize.

They suggested the state instead focus on projects that would upgrade unsafe roads and address additional plans as revenue allows.

“It’s important to look at the fact that these are the things that we need to be able to do over the next few years in order to have a proper transportation system, and $100 billion dollars sounds nice, but it may not be the number that’s achievable,” Davis said.

Along with bonding, the two Republicans proposed using sales tax from all motor vehicle sales for the Special Transportation Fund; currently revenue from transactions at dealerships goes to the General Fund.

Fasano was doubtful that other revenue sources, namely tolls, user fees, or new taxes, would produce the amount of funding that the state would need to pay for Malloy’s plan.

He also said increasing bonding — Malloy increased his voluntary cap on borrowing from $1.8 billion to $2.5 billion for this year — hurts future state budgets that need to pay for the associated debt.

But Fasano and panel Chairman Cameron Staples disagreed on the role of the panel, which Malloy created in March to find ways to fund a transportation plan.

Staples, a former lawmaker and current president and CEO of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, said the panel is charged with finding ways to meet Malloy’s goal of $100 billion.

Fasano, though, said the panel has the leeway to determine what the state can afford, and said the Republican plan gives the panel an alternative.

“If they’re there to validify the governor’s position, we’re wasting our time,” Fasano said. “The governor appointed these folks, and if the governor appointed them, and their job, they see, is to validify the governor, then let’s just go home. Then just say, ‘Yeah, he’s got a great plan,’ and let’s walk out of there.”