GOP chastises Malloy for ‘non-essential’ projects

Republicans decried more than $28 million in financing released Friday by the State Bond Commission for “non-essential” projects, including new beach sand for Milford and sports field restrooms in West Hartford, at the request of the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Rep. Sean J. Williams of Watertown and Sen. Andrew W. Roraback of Goshen, the top GOP lawmakers on the legislature’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Commission and the only Republicans on the bond panel, charged the projects were particularly unnecessary given ongoing plans for more than 6,600 state employee layoffs.

malloy bond commission

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy talks to reporters after the bond commission

“I can’t go back to my district and say streetscapes and other things that weren’t of absolute critical importance I voted for,” Williams told Malloy. “I think we need to be a little more circumspect.”

“We are at a very different moment in time in the history of our state,” said Roraback. “The specter of 6,000 layoffs looms large.”

Roraback said afterward that some of the items approved Friday fell under the category of “pork-barrel” projects to assist Democrats in their home districts, while others were “worthy, but clearly non-essential.”

Among the financing requests that both Williams and Roraback voted against were:

  • $8.35 million to help Windham Hospital develop a new medical office campus.
  • $6.5 million to expand a community health center in Meriden.
  • $4.7 million for streetscape work along Park Street in Hartford.
  • $4 million to redevelop a moderate rental housing complex in Stamford.
  • $1.45 million for upgrades to the Old State House in Hartford.
  • $1.25 million for new sand, other beach erosion work and a new pier in Milford.
  • $750,000 for Westbrook for harbor dredging.
  • $750,000 for sidewalks, lighting , bike racks and utility work in the Plainville downtown area.
  • $250,000 for road, sidewalk and landscape work along Brooklawn Avenue in Bridgeport.
  • $250,000 for restrooms, and handicapped accessible walkways and a play area at a West Hartford sports field.
  • $105,000 to buy a new rescue unit for the Allingtown Fire District in West Haven.

Since Malloy became governor in January, his budget office, which prepares the bond commission’s agenda, provides an estimate of the jobs the state could “create or retain” with each proposed bond issue.

Five of the projects both Williams and Roraback opposed would “create or retain” 417 construction jobs and 20 health care jobs, according to administration estimates.

But the other five, including beach work in Milford, sports field improvements in West Hartford, the fire rescue unit for West Haven, dredging work in Westbrook, and road and landscape work in Bridgeport, came without any job projections.

Republicans have argued that the new Democratic governor, who campaigned on a pledge to change wasteful fiscal practices of past GOP governors, has failed to live up to that promise.

Malloy defended the financing after Friday’s meeting.

“I heard the speeches at the outset” of the meeting, the governor said, noting that all the agenda items enjoyed strong support. “People can say what they want, but the votes were pretty clear.”

The other eight seats on the 10-member bond commission, though, are held by Malloy, his fellow Democrats in the legislature and other constitutional offices, and by his budget director and public works commissioner.

Rep. Patricia Widlitz, D-Guilford, a member of the bond commission and co-chairwoman of the
Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, said many communities undertook these projects with the understanding that state assistance would be forthcoming.

“They may not seem essential to some, but they are essential to the people in these towns,” she said, adding that “these projects are very carefully scrutinized. It’s not easy to get funding released.”

The governor also said that while “hundreds” of layoff notices have gone out to date, “beginning next week we will see large-scale” release of notices, likely as early as Tuesday.

The administration has charged agencies with meeting more than $700 million in savings targets this fiscal year to compensate for the tentative concession agreement rejected recently by state employee unions. To help achieve those targets, the administration has recommended more than 6,600 layoffs and elimination of about 1,000 vacant posts.

Connecticut, which ranks among the top states in the nation in per capita debt with more than $19 billion in total bonded obligations.

One of the chief Wall Street credit rating agencies, Moody’s Investor Services, notified Connecticut earlier this month that it had changed its “outlook” assessment for the state from stable to negative.