Gov. Ned Lamont loosened the tight grip he’s kept on borrowing when the state Bond Commission met Wednesday for only the fourth time in 2019, but only under the terms of a “debt diet” and other measures the governor says have produced dividends for Connecticut on Wall Street.
The meeting came as Moody’s and Bloomberg News each reported that Connecticut has improved as a credit risk and is better positioned to weather a recession as the result of various financial moves, including some required in a bipartisan budget passed in 2017 under the previous administration.
“We haven’t borrowed and allocated as much money as we have in years past, but I think our fiscal discipline is being recognized around the country,” Lamont said.
Connecticut’s budget reserves are projected to reach $2.9 billion by the end of the fiscal year in June and the refinancing of some pension debt has given the state a greater measure of stability, drawing applause from Moody’s, a rating agency, and Bloomberg. Standard & Poor’s upgraded its Connecticut outlook months ago for the first time in 18 years.
“I was elected on the commitment that I would be hyper focused on righting our fiscal ship, and in doing so changing the narrative about this great state,” Lamont said.
The allocations approved Wednesday by the Bond Commission allow the treasurer to go to the bond markets to borrow money for a range of capital projects approved by the General Assembly in previous years, including $135 million for transportation, $46 million for affordable housing, and $42 million for energy and environmental spending.
Lawmakers approved no bond package in the 2019 session, a casualty of the governor’s struggle to win passage of a transportation infrastructure financing plan. Lamont has refused to commit to new borrowing without knowing the terms of a long-range transportation plan.
With a vote expected in January on a plan that relies on truck tolls, Lamont told commission members that he will agree then on a bond package necessary to provide state aid for local capital improvement projects and municipal roads repaving.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, and Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, whose caucuses oppose tolls or any new transportation revenue, complained Wednesday that rather waiting until January the legislature should immediately adopt at least a partial bond package for local aid.
“The governor is holding the bond bill hostage with the tolls,” Klarides said.
Legislators were in Hartford on Wednesday for a one-day special session on the settlement of hospital litigation and a bill that clarifies how restaurants should pay tipped waiters and bartenders when they are doing non-tipped work. The issue has generated lawsuits against restaurants.
An earlier attempt to clarify the law was vetoed by Lamont.