Connecticut lawmakers vote on long-awaited bonding bill

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut lawmakers were voting Wednesday on a long-delayed borrowing package, with some Republicans arguing the proposal negotiated with Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont spends too much.

Lamont has said Connecticut needs a “debt diet,” arguing that curtailing borrowing by nearly 40%, to less than $1 billion annually, will ultimately boost economic growth. But Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano of North Haven noted the legislation authorizes $1.55 billion in fiscal year 2020 and $1.52 billion in fiscal year 2021 for projects such as school construction, local aid and infrastructure improvements.

“The governor laid out a principled goal of prioritizing needs over wants,” Fasano said. “But that’s not the package before us today.”

The state averaged nearly $1.6 billion in annual bond authorizations when former Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was in office. Max Reiss, Lamont’s spokesman, noted that authorizations in this proposal, depending on the type, are down 11% to 19% compared to Malloy’s tenure.

“This is not a time for baseless allegations and finger-pointing, but it is time for effective governance of this great state and its finances, which will always be measured and balanced with making appropriate investments in Connecticut’s future,” Reiss said in a written statement.

Not all Republicans agreed with Fasano’s criticism. Rep. Livvy Floren, R-Greenwich, the top GOP House member of the legislature’s bonding subcommittee, said the negotiated plan was a good compromise.

“It adheres to the debt diet without imposing starvation,” she said.

Rep. Patricia Billie Miller, D-Stamford, the top Democratic House member of the bonding subcommittee, noted how the plan is below the state’s self-imposed cap on borrowing and funds key initiatives, such as clean water projects, affordable housing, lead remediation, and road and bridge improvements.

The legislation easily cleared the House of Representatives, 126-20, and the Senate, 31-5, on bipartisan votes despite the criticism. It was expected to pass in the Senate on Wednesday afternoon. The vote came on the eve of a planned deep cleaning of the state Capitol complex because of the new coronavirus outbreak over the next four days, putting the rest of the General Assembly’s schedule in limbo.

The borrowing bill was supposed to have been passed during the last legislative session, but it got tied up in the debate over highway tolls.

Betsy Gara, executive director of the Council of Small Towns, said her members welcomed the long-awaited passage of the bill, which funds key state grants to cities and towns.

“COST was very concerned that the clock on the spring construction season was ticking. If action on a bond package was delayed any further, towns would have lost a whole construction season, leaving roads, bridges and other infrastructure in disrepair,” she said. “Towns are now breathing a huge sigh of relief.”

Some Republicans raised concerns about how the bill includes $65 million over two years for renovations to the XL Center, the aging, downtown indoor arena in Hartford. Also, Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, questioned why there was $5 million in borrowing to address possible costs associated with COVID-19. He said such costs should be covered instead by the state’s budget reserves.

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