Bond panel approves $260M for commuter rail, GOP members protest 2009 borrowing taken from capital projects

The state Bond Commission approved Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s request for $260 million to help fund the planned New Haven-to-Springfield commuter rail line today.

But the approval only came after two of the governor’s fellow Republicans opposed it to protest a Rell-approved plan to borrow $580 million in 2009 from future capital projects to help government pay its bills.

Rep. Vincent J. Candelora of North Branford, ranking House Republican on the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, questioned last week why the $580 million in short-term borrowing – approved in April 2009 when the state was more than $1 billion in deficit – still hasn’t been repaid. He also charged that he was unaware at the time that the financing had been sought to keep the state’s checkbook in balance, and not to finance capital projects.

Candelora and his fellow GOP lawmakers already have criticized both Rell, a Republican, and the legislature’s Democratic majority for ordering $2 billion in total borrowing over the past year to cover government operating costs across two annual budgets.

“We’re borrowing from our bond projects for the purpose of operating government,”  Candelora said during the commission meeting, questioning whether it would restrict available funding for capital projects in the future.

“It does raise questions on the part of the legislation as to whether it was intended to cover borrowing … of that duration,” added Sen. Andrew W. Roraback of Goshen, ranking GOP senator on the finance panel and also a member of the commission.

State Treasurer Denise L. Nappier, who developed the 2009 borrowing plan, said it enabled Connecticut to borrow cash at low -interest rates, and added that after the notes are repaid in 2011, the state’s capital project budget will be restored.

Rell initially tried after the meeting to refer reporters’ questions about the state’s operating cash pool to Nappier.

But when pressed, Rell said Candelora’s points “were well taken.”

Rep. Cameron C. Staples, D-New Haven, co-chairman of the finance committee and also a bond commission member, said disputes of this kind might be avoided in the future if the commission were to receive regular reports on the cash pool.