The governor wants to pursue a federal waiver that would allow the importation of prescription drugs from Canada at lower rates. Joe Amon / Connecticut Public Radio
Gov. Ned Lamont discussed vaping, marijuana legalization and drug importation from Canada in his State of the State address and budget release Wednesday. Joe Amon / Connecticut Public Radio

Gov. Ned Lamont cheated on his debt diet Wednesday to win legislators’ support for truck tolls, but it remains to be seen whether pork-barrel spending is on the menu.

The administration failed last spring to reach a deal with lawmakers on how much to borrow this fiscal year and next.

On Wednesday, Lamont upped the ante, adding an average of $442 million to his two-year bonding proposal. That’s about 20% more than he insisted Connecticut could afford when he took office last year.

Lamont now is recommending $2.5 billion in new borrowing for the fiscal year than ends June 30, and $2.61 billion for 2020-21. But not all of that is controversial.

At issue is a subset of those proposals, about $1.4 billion each year in general obligation (G.O.) bonding. This involves borrowing which, if approved, would have to be paid off out of the General Fund, the same part of the budget that supports municipal aid, higher education, social services and other popular programs.

The $1.4 billion in annual G.O. bonding Lamont now endorses is earmarked for job development and other economic development initiatives, affordable housing, renovations to courthouses and other state facilities, and grants for libraries and nonprofit social service agencies.

The governor is hoping that his fellow Democrats in the legislature will be appeased by this enough to support a major transportation rebuilding program.

If truck tolls or some other new revenue stream for transportation construction isn’t approved, Lamont said he would have to curb borrowing in most areas and focus a greater share of Connecticut’s bonding program toward rebuilding its highways, bridges and rail lines.

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers, who oppose tolls but favor less overall borrowing, are worried not just about Lamont’s new willingness to borrow, but whether some of it will go toward pork-barrel spending.

“The governor went way off his debt diet,” Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said Wednesday. When it became clear  last week that Lamont would accept more bonding, the GOP leader charged the governor with “buying votes” for tolls. Democratic leaders say they don’t expect a vote on tolls until later this month.

The definition of pork varies greatly from legislator to legislator, but it generally refers to bonding in two categories:

  • Smaller projects in select legislators’ districts that local taxpayers in most other communities would have to pay for themselves. This could be repairs to a senior center roof or a new sports field at a town high school.
  • Additional funding for a state priority, but only in an influential legislator’s district. For example, the state may make small business assistance grants available in several regions, but might focus extra funding in one area at a legislator’s behest.

The best way to test for pork, Fasano and other Republicans say, is to provide as much detail as possible about the borrowing Lamont is seeking over the next 17 months.

“I think they want to keep that under wraps because they don’t want us to know who got what for a vote” of support on tolls, Fasano added.

Melissa McCaw, Lamont’s budget director, said the budget and bond package the administration unveiled Wednesday “continues the good work that is underway. … Connecticut is on a strong financial path.”

The Lamont administration released its budget and bond package summaries Wednesday, and Chris McClure, spokesman for the budget office, said the governor’s proposed bonding bill would be released Thursday.

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Keith M. PhaneufState Budget Reporter

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.

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  1. NO TOLLS. Vote against any legislator in favor of this. Lamont is a failure. Democrats are a failure. If CT continues to follow them we will be a failure. Pensions Bankrupting is and union payoffs need To stop

    We need term limits. How is it that people in the state house as careers are seen to represent us?

  2. Another definition for “Pork Barrel Fund” is a “Bribe”. Is this really how we want our state government to operate? This unethical approach to governing must stop…now!

  3. The debt diet was never real, it was just a tool to use as leverage with Democrat Leadership, but it is a terrible deal just for truck tolls that may bring in $150-200 million in new revenue. Isn’t the bigger story that we now officially have Malloy 3.0. Adding another $5.1 Billion of new debt when we can barely afford to pay the interest on our existing debt is absurd. The Republican leadership is right, this is just more of the same, and we can expect the same results more TBS – higher taxation, bonding, and spending; our long-term downward spiral tightens.

  4. More debt we can’t afford to pay for more pork we don’t need to enable more taxes (tolls). Sounds like an awesome deal and another sure fire way to grow our state economy.

    Who continues to elect these fools who are ruining our state in front of our eyes? Anyone? Bueller?

  5. Dear Mr Generous,
    It is not “OK”! It seems that way because we have become numb to it. If we force honesty, ethics and morals to be key traits of the next generation of Connecticuts Political Leaders our state will turn around in record time.

    1. Well said. It is not acceptable for ANY politician to “cherry pick” data to make themselves feel better about their own poor decisions. I find this to be especially true when it comes to economic data and senior members of the Democrat Party.

      I also am stunned by Gov. Lamont declaration, that was directed at senior members of the Republican Party, to “stop bad mouthing Connecticut”. It is our legislatures job to be critical of Connecticut’s Government WHEN / IF they disagree on policy.

      The truth is businesses looking to relocate here, look at our financials statements, and shake their head, they don’t care what kind of pep rally we put on, they care about data and Gov. Lamont, of all people, should know that.

      1. You said business looking to locate here. Ha. Name one. I wish that was not the case as I live here but I have not seen any major announcement from any company to relocate here. Remember when Ned and Joe told us fmla and 15 min wage would drive growth. Ha

  6. How is it Lamont pays off people to get tolls yet Trump gets impeached for using US tax payer funds to try to get a foreign power to investigate a political opponent???? I don’t see the distinction do you?

    Again NO TOLLS !!!

  7. When was this said?——-(That $442M is about 20% more than he/Lamont insisted Connecticut could afford when he took office last year) .. CT needs to spend less and pay down the deficit now. As lond as CT has excessive debt it needs to get resolved to return to solvency..Look at California and Illinois….

  8. What people don’t realize yet is the toll construction will also have to be bonded. I can not find any appropriation for the construction of tolls in CT so that means additional moneys set aside from the general fund. Where is this lock box and when will the people of CT realize that you are destroying our children and grandchildren future by saddling them with outrageous debt by these tax and spend democrats.

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