Gov. Dannel P. Malloy challenged his Republican critics Tuesday to vote against — and not just complain about — his borrowing proposals, adding that the GOP historically votes with him on these matters nine out of 10 times.
Meanwhile, the only Republican senator on the State Bond Commission, L. Scott Frantz of Greenwich, called for a moratorium on certain bonding, arguing state government needs a new strategy for its credit card before the 2017 legislative session begins in January.
“It’s wonderful to have your cake and eat it too, I suppose,” Malloy said.
The Democratic governor, who chairs the 10-member bond commission, took heat this week from Republican lawmakers over about $2.1 billion in borrowing that’s been approved since the calendar year began.
Malloy, who has nearly doubled annual borrowing since 2012, set a “soft” bond cap this year of $2.7 billion. The state isn’t required to stay below this level, but it does represent an important estimate of likely borrowing that Connecticut submits annually to Wall Street credit-rating agencies.
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, noted Monday that the state already is 75 percent of the way toward its limit with five months remaining in the calendar year.
Rep. Chris Davis of Ellington, the only other Republican besides Frantz on the bond commission, voted against several items on Tuesday’s agenda. including $1 million to develop an indoor mural in Winsted and $8.85 million to renovate and upgrade several sites, including:
- The XL Center in Hartford;
- The Connecticut Tennis Center in New Haven;
- The Connecticut Science Center in Hartford;
- and the Church Street parking garage in Hartford.
Davis also voted against an omnibus agenda item involving $26.5 million in financing for a total of 11 different projects, including:
- Improvements to a community center in Stamford;
- Flood control measures along the Connecticut River in Hartford;
- Streetscape and roadway repairs tied to a commercial and housing development in Norwalk;
- Improvements to two youth centers in Stamford;
- And a grant to Hartford for a bronze statue of Walter “Doc” Hurley, a local sports legend and community leader who died two years ago.
Davis said there are several good projects in this item — and others that were not necessary given state government’s fiscal challenges.
When Malloy invited Davis during the meeting to name which projects he specifically supported and opposed, Davis declined.
Malloy also charged that Republicans focus on smaller-ticket items they argue are unnecessary, but most state borrowing represents “an investment” in local schools, public colleges and universities, and highways, railways and other transportation infrastructure.
“What people have forgotten is bonding is investment, investment is bonding, in the state of Connecticut,” the governor said. “I would tell you I think we’ve made wise investments.”
Since 2011, Republicans on the bond commission have voted for the agenda items recommended by the Malloy administration 89.6 percent of the time.
And since this year began, Malloy added, the GOP has voted with him 96 percent of the time.
But Davis noted that the governor’s budget office controls the bond commission agenda, and it is the administration’s prerogative to group questionable projects in the same agenda item with high-priority bonding for schools or state facilities.
“I took the tough decision of saying ‘no,’” Davis said, referring to the omnibus agenda item he voted against, adding that he didn’t want to debate project after project with Malloy at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I don’t know if that was the appropriate forum for me to sit back and say, you know, ‘this line item I agree with, that line item I don’t agree with,’” Davis added.
Frantz took a somewhat similar approach. Though the Greenwich lawmaker voted for all of the bond commission items, he said during the meeting that he believes Connecticut would be better off not borrowing for these projects right now.
Frantz then extended his position, calling for a moratorium on borrowing, excluding school construction, which is the single-largest area of state financing. He recommended formation of a small, bipartisan panel, with representatives from two groups that often benefit from state bonding: businesses and nonprofit social service groups.
A new strategy needs to be developed, Frantz said, charging that Malloy runs the bond commission meeting in an accelerated fashion. The group approved more than 30 agenda items in less than a half-hour.
Given that approach, “you can mix in a lot of projects that we don’t need at this particular point with a lot of good projects, and of course it’s going to get passed,” Frantz said. “It’s essentially a rubber stamp committee.”
Correction: Rep. Chris Davis resides in Ellington. An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Davis as residing in Enfield.