Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and one of his chief GOP rivals, Senate Minority Leader John P. McKinney, are ending 2013 as they began it — battling over Connecticut’s hefty credit card debt.

The Fairfield lawmaker has been citing a new report that undercuts one of the governor’s chief defenses: that overall debt is less than when he took office three years ago.

“As I stand before you today, we have less bonded debt,” Malloy told Capitol reporters on Sept. 27.

The context was simple. When Gov. M. Jodi Rell left office in January 2011, the bonded debt stood at $19.97 billion. When Malloy addressed the media last fall, it was $19.76 billion.

But the latest report from the treasurer, which covers October, shows the bonded debt had risen by month’s end to $20.9 billion.

And the borrowing behind that surge in October — refinancing 2009 state debt and bonding to ease the conversion to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles — had been in the works for months.

Technically, Malloy was correct, having offered the qualifier “as I stand before you today.”

But the treasurer’s report confirms, McKinney charged, the governor’s willingness to use misdirection and semantics to disguise the state’s fiscal woes.

“It is absolutely intentional,” said McKinney, who launched his own bid to become governor in July. “And it fits a pattern where Governor Malloy is not honest with Connecticut about the real facts.”

“Senator McKinney will criticize anything the governor does if he thinks it will get him press attention,” Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba said last week. “What he won’t do is specifically say what bond items he doesn’t support.  If the bonding happens in his district, he’s fine with it. He’ll even write letters in support of it. But when it happens in other parts of the state, he’s not for it.”

The governor and McKinney have been battling over the state’s borrowing since 2013 began, when Malloy told Wall Street credit rating agencies he intended to dramatically increase the amount of financing the State Bond Commission would approve this year.

The governor is chairman of the commission, and his budget office has sole authority to set its agenda.

The panel decides whether financing will be issued for: municipal school construction; highway, bridge and rail projects; state building renovations; sewage treatment plant upgrades; open space and farmland preservation; several types of corporate assistance and related economic development initiatives; some building projects at public colleges and universities; and various smaller projects in legislators’ home districts.

Connecticut already has one of the highest debts, per capita, of any state. And McKinney argued that Malloy’s decision to allow the commission to approve up to $1.8 billion in bonding in 2013, compared with about $1.4 billion in 2012, is irresponsible.

Malloy has said this borrowing will help jump-start job growth in Connecticut which has, like some other states, struggled with a sluggish recovery from the last recession.

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

Leave a comment