Just how much should the state put on its credit card to pay for the construction of new public schools, affordable housing projects, college classrooms and various economic development initiatives?
A decision on this controversial issue will have to wait until the legislature convenes a special session this summer. That’s because Democratic legislative leaders and Gov. Ned Lamont have so far failed to reach an agreement on the state’s capital budget — and with only hours to go before the legislative session adjourns at midnight, it is clear that time has run out.
To the displeasure of many lawmakers, Lamont has been pushing to significantly scale back state borrowing to $1.3 billion a year from the $2 billion a year that was typical in the final term of his predecessor, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
Many legislators still haven’t come around to supporting Lamont’s so-called ‘debt diet’ since the Democratic governor first proposed it nearly four months ago.
“Our bond bill is certainly higher than the governor would prefer and we are just trying to figure out where the right point is. He has his number. We have ours.”
Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford
“There are certainly some folks on the legislative side who still don’t agree with the debt diet. It’s just going to require us getting rid of all the distractions that are out there when [the legislative] session is in play and getting around the table and just focussing on the bond bill. Those discussions will start on Tuesday,” said state Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, the House chairman of the powerful Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee.
“Our bond bill is certainly higher than the governor would prefer and we are just trying to figure out where the right point is. He has his number. We have ours,” Rojas said.
State Sen. John Fonfara, the senate chairman of the Financing, Revenue and Bonding Committee and one of the fiercest opponents of the governor’s debt diet, said reaching a compromise on capital spending was difficult since the first priority was reaching agreement on a non-capital General Fund budget.
“There is a lot of work that needs to be done and people have been focused on the budget and haven’t had a chance to put the time in necessary to get it to where it needs to be,” Fonfara said. “We will turn to that now.”
Spending for the construction of affordable housing took a big hit under the governor’s proposed debt diet, with Lamont recommending no new bonding for those projects next year. The bonding committee recommended about $400 million.
“There is a continued need for housing money. Certainly we can find a number between zero and $400 million that we can agree on. I just don’t know if we can agree on zero and still meet the demands for housing,” said Rojas.
On school construction, which typically consumes a sizable amount of the available state bonding, there seems to be consensus in how much to spend. That’s because there were not a lot of communities requesting money compared to previous years.
“We got really lucky this year on that front,” said Rojas.
Lawmakers plan to call themselves into special session to pick up some of the issues they were unable to resolve during the regular 5-month session, such as tolls, transportation initiatives, and gambling.