Towns say state has reneged on road repair money

Cities and towns clamored Tuesday for state road maintenance grants they’ve been awaiting since July, warning that projects could be deferred or canceled unless the $30 million Town Aid Road program is launched before the spring construction season begins in a few weeks

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, the New Haven-based lobbying arm for the state’s 169 cities and towns, also warned that communities would be hard pressed to find local funds to offset the delayed state funding, as some municipalities did last fall.

“From our perspective, the governor and the General Assembly made a promise to cities and towns,” CCM Executive Director James Finley said. “This program creates jobs and it stimulates the private sector. We’re baffled as to why it continues to be delayed.”

One of the largest non-education grants, the Town Aid Road program involves $30 million traditionally paid in $15 million installments on July 1 and Jan. 1.

The July installment didn’t arrive on time because the state legislature didn’t adopt a new budget until Sept. 8, more than two months after the 2009-10 fiscal year began. And while funding for the grants ultimately was designated, it wasn’t built into the budget. Rather the $30 million was included on a schedule of projects and programs to be funded through long-term bond financing – a budget-balancing ploy used in tough fiscal times past.

But while there is specific legal language mandating when budgeted appropriations for the Town Aid Road program must be dispensed to communities, there is no such schedule for bond allocations. The financing given preliminary approval by the legislature still must be given a final endorsement from the State Bond Commission. Rell is chairwoman of that panel and her budget office has sole authority to set the commission’s monthly agenda.

Several towns dealt with the lack of grant dollars this past fall by spending their reserves on some road projects and by delaying others, Finley said, adding fewer communities likely can tap their savings accounts a second time this spring.

Rell’s budget director, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Robert L. Genuario, said the state’s credit card isn’t in much better shape than the budget, which is running $515 million in the red. Based on the latest revenue forecasts, the preliminary bond schedule for the 2010-11 fiscal year would exceed the statutory bonding cap by $242 million, he said.

“Given the difficult times, that Town Aid Road funding is something the governor is going to consider,” Genuario added.

Senate President Pro Tempore Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, said the road maintenance grants were not discussed at a meeting legislative leaders and Rell held on Monday, “but I think the presumption is the administration will get this money out the door  in March.”

“The governor at no time raised any objections to Town Aid Road funding when the budget was being debated and we are dismayed that month after month passes and the state is not living up to its obligation,” Finley added. “For every project that is delayed, it ends up costing more. Again the property tax payers bear the brunt of this inaction.”