Proposed state budget diverts most new transportation dollars

Updated at 9:44 p.m.

While the tentative state budget deal technically dedicates $436 million in sales tax receipts over the next two years to stabilize transportation finances and back a major infrastructure overhaul, that same spending plan effectively diverts more than 85 percent of those funds for non-transportation programs.

At the same time the receipts are assigned to transportation, another $371 million in general fund resources normally earmarked for transportation would stay in the general fund — which is facing big deficits in the coming biennium.

The net gain to transportation over the coming biennium is a more modest $65 million.

The new funding arrangement sparked objections from Republican lawmakers, who charged Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy with breaking his own pledge to safeguard transportation funds from diversions in a legal “lockbox.” But the administration fired back that its GOP critics are content to leave Connecticut with an aging, clogged transportation network.

Malloy issued a statement hailing the transportation investment Monday morning. But his release also touted the lockbox.

“With expected passage of the Governor’s lockbox proposal, Connecticut residents will know that these historic investments will be used solely for transportation upgrades to benefit our state now and in the long-term,” it reads.

According to revenue documents on the tentative budget deal prepared for the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee by nonpartisan analysts, the new budget does dedicate $435.5 million in sales tax receipts to transportation: $158.6 million in 2015-16 and $276.9 million in 2016-17.

But according to the governor’s 30-year transportation enhancement plan, the Special Transportation Fund has enough revenue under current law to meet all expenses over the next two years. That includes both the existing infrastructure program and the earliest stages of the governor’s plan.

And while the transportation fund doesn’t have an immediate need for revenue, the general fund does, with deficits topping $1.4 billion projected for each of the next two fiscal years unless adjustments are made.

According to records prepared for the finance committee, $371.4 million in required payments from the general fund to the transportation fund – $191 million in the first year and $180.4 million in the second – would be canceled.

“The governor seems to be forgetting the promises he made to the people of Connecticut,” Sen. Toni Boucher of Wilton, ranking GOP senator on the Transportation Committee, and Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, wrote in a joint statement.

“We find it puzzling that, given the long list of issues surrounding our roads and bridges and rail, that…this governor and (the) majority party are sweeping money once again from the Special Transportation Fund. What happened to the lockbox?”

“So the Republicans oppose the largest transportation investment in Connecticut history – at $15 billion over the next five years, including operating costs?” Malloy spokesman Devon Puglia said. “Seems like Toni Boucher and her colleagues in the GOP want their residents to sit in traffic and ride an antiquated rail system just so the GOP can distort and snipe.”

The Special Transportation Fund is on pace to run in deficit three fiscal years from now, and would exhaust its reserves in 2018-19, if nothing is changed.

“With their incredible distortions, “ Puglia added, “the GOP wants to hit the emergency brakes on something that could reshape Connecticut so that it never happens.”

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