Legislators air budget grievances facing Connecticut at Middlesex chamber breakfast [Middletown Press]

February 23, 2016

Middletown Press

MIDDLETOWN >> Two months after the House Republicans blocked a constitutional lockbox protecting future transportation funding, and weeks after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy unveiled his plan to save $570 million in the coming fiscal year, state legislators gathered to address the public’s concerns over the issues facing Connecticut.

During the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce Breakfast on Friday, chamber members were given the opportunity to question state representatives and senators about the 2016 legislative session.

While members and legislators discussed the proposed changes to the state budget, energy, tourism and environmental policy, many business leaders voiced their concerns over transportation funding.

On Dec. 8, the House voted 100-40, short of the super-majority the General Assembly needed to put an amendment on the ballot this year to create a constitutional lockbox for future transportation spending.

The proposal was 14 votes short of the 114 needed, said Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-34. Those who voted against supporting the transportation lockbox did so because the amendment did not clearly define which sources of revenue would be locked away, Fasano said.

“We need to make sure the lockbox really does its job and these funds go where they are supposed to go,” explained state Rep. Devin Carney, R-23.

CTNewsJunkie reported that Malloy started funding his $100 billion, 30-year transportation vision with the 2016-2017 budget.

“The governor talked about $100 billion without any justification of why that number exists other than it is a nice round number,” Fasano said.

He explained there are only four places in the world with a $100 billion transportation budget — the Canadian province of Ontario, Mexico, Colombia and the California High-Speed Rail. “We are nowhere near the size or magnitude of those,” he said.

To bring income into the state of Connecticut for transportation projects, President of Kronenberger & Sons Restoration Brian Kronenberger asked legislators if the state was considering implementing tolls or raising taxes this session.

Fasano said Connecticut’s Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redeker completed a study that showed it would be years before Connecticut saw a financial benefit of introducing tolls.

By the time the state factors in infrastructure costs, tolls would have to be twice the amount of any rate in the country in order for the state to break even, Fasano said. For the state to return a profit, tolls would have to be four times the rate of the highest rate in this country.
“Futuristically, 20 to 30 years out, there might be some return on investment. But who the heck knows what we are going to look like 20 to 30 years from now,” Fasano said.

State Sen. Art Linares, R-33, agreed that Connecticut does not need more taxes and tolls to become more financially stable; rather the state needs pension reform.

By 2025, the number of people aged 65 and older will grow by 54 percent, Linares said, and the amount of people working from ages 17 to 65 will decrease by .1 percent.

“Our unfunded liabilities are over $48 billion. We have a balloon payment in 2032 of $18 billion — that is the annual budget of the state of Connecticut,” Linares said. “In order to solve this problem, we have to put politics aside. It’s not politics, it’s math. We need a matching 401k system similar to what the private sector offers. It’s not tolls, it’s not taxes. It’s pension reform so we can afford pencils in 2025.”