Washington — Gov. Dannel Malloy called Congress “crazy,” “irresponsible” and “insane” for failing to approve a long-term transportation bill that would allow the state to move forward on new road projects.
Failure to approve a long-term bill has forced Congress to pass short-term authorizations to keep federal transportation money flowing to states. The latest stopgap measure expires at the end of the month.
On Friday, Malloy joined fellow Democrat, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who said, “This is possibly the worse Congress in 50 years,” in a telephone news conference calling for a long-term bill.
Malloy and Villaraigosa said their scorn is directed at members of both parties.
“It’s crazy out there,” Malloy said of Congress. “They should set aside partisan politics. This is insanity.”
Yet Republican House leaders received the brunt of their ire because they’ve failed to act on a transportation bill that would authorize spending for at least two years. Earlier this year, the Democratic-controlled Senate approved a two-year, $109 billion bill that Malloy called “not perfect, but better than nothing.”
House Speaker John Boehner’s off-the-cuff remark Thursday that he is considering a six-month extension to push the issue past the November elections has infuriated Malloy, Villaraigosa and other Democrats.
Democrats have characterized the transportation bill as a jobs bill that would put thousands, if not millions, of idle construction workers back to work, and they say the GOP is stalling on the legislation for political reasons.
“It’s irresponsible,” Malloy said. “Unemployment does not seem to frighten people in Washington as it does in my home state of Connecticut.”
Malloy said the “cloud of short-term extensions” that now funds the building of roads and bridges makes it very difficult for the Connecticut Department of Transportation to plan or move forward on new projects, such as the proposed replacement of the I-84 viaduct that runs through Hartford.
Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra called in to make a pitch for the viaduct project that he said is vital to the city.
Judd Everhart, spokesman for the Connecticut DOT, said projects currently under way, such as the Q Bridge, the Moses Wheeler Bridge and the New Britain-Hartford Busway, are already funded and aren’t in any real jeopardy.
But without a new bill, preferably one that would last at least two years — and preferably six — Everhart said, “Our ability to plan for and design major projects is severely impacted.”
“We would not undertake a major project without being reasonably certain that the money would be available,” he said.
Everhart also said the federal government “typically” provides about 80 percent of the cost of a project, and sometimes 90 percent.
“Needless to say, we rely heavily on Washington to get things done,” he said.
The House wants approval of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline in a long-term bill, an idea that’s dead on arrival in the Senate. In addition, the House and Senate disagree on the best way to replenish the transportation trust fund that finances most projects.
The fund receives money from federal gasoline taxes. But that funding has dwindled as Americans drive more fuel-efficient cars and high gasoline prices has cut back consumption.
The fund is expected to go broke in the fall.
But House Minority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., has said the government “is just out of money” to replenish the trust fund.
Malloy on Friday suggested that Cantor return his paycheck to the U.S. Treasury if he’s so concerned about spending federal funds.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., has also jumped upon the Democratic bandwagon, blaming the GOP for the impasse on the transportation bill. He joined construction workers Friday at the future site of the Long Wharf project in New Haven to urge quick passage of a long-term bill.