Witkos: State must recognize its surging debt [CT Mirror]

June 29, 2015

CT Mirror

The state Senate gave the green light in special session Monday to $2.8 billion in financing to launch the first five years of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s initiative to overhaul Connecticut’s transportation infrastructure.

The Democrat-controlled Senate, which approved the measure 24-12 along party lines, also approved a $5.9 billion capital bonding program for the next two fiscal years.

The program covers financing not only for transportation, but also for municipal school construction, capital projects at public colleges and universities, sewage treatment plant upgrades, repairs to state facilities, housing development and miscellaneous smaller projects.

“Today’s vote is the first step towards the future of a best-in-class transportation system,” Malloy spokesman Devon Puglia said. “This issue is too important — for jobs, for businesses, and for families. We would like to thank the legislature for sharing the governor’s vision to transform our infrastructure. This one vote will have ramifications that will benefit generations of residents.”

“There’s no part of the budget that we will pass that will do more to create jobs,” said Sen. Stephen T. Cassano, D-Manchester, who chairs the transportation bonding subcommittee on the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee.

Cassano added that “the needs are obvious to all of us who travel the roads in Connecticut.”

Malloy unveiled plans in February to start Connecticut down a 30-year path to invest $100 billion in state and federal funds on its highways, bridges, railroads, bus lines, air and sea ports and bike paths.

To help cover the debt service on this new spending, legislators and the governor agreed to dedicate a portion of state sales tax receipts to the Special Transportation Fund.

Many of the capital projects in the plan’s first five years are focused on design work for highway and bridge repair.

The bonding for Let’s Go CT includes $795 million in the next two fiscal years combined and another $2 billion for the three fiscal years after that, running through 2019-20.

Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, the second-highest-ranking GOP senator, said Republicans believe Connecticut needs to invest more in transportation. But the state also must recognize its surging debt.

With about $21 billion in bonded debt, Connecticut already ranks among the most indebted states, per capita, in the nation.

And Malloy notified Wall Street credit rating agencies earlier this year that he planned to increase state borrowing dramatically in 2015, from about $1.8 billion to $2.5 billion.

“Each of us as individual taxpayers has to bear that,” Witkos said, adding that a dangerous trend in state bonding involves financing more and more operating costs traditionally paid for with cash in the budget. “We continuously move things from the general fund to bonding,” he said.

But Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, who chairs the general obligation bonding subcommittee on the finance committee, said his panel worked hard to carve out new space on the state’s credit card.

To bring the new, two-year bond package under $6 billion, legislators canceled more than $272 million in previously approved bond authorizations – most involving projects that haven’t gotten underway yet.

“We created room for the future to keep our state on track,” Leone said.