The historic American Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, which was built in 1955 and on whose stage Katharine Hepburn, Christopher Plummer and other famous actors performed, burned down last year. Sen. Kevin Kelly is seeking an undetermined amount of state bonding to rebuild the theater.

Republican legislative leaders may be on Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont’s “debt diet,” but rank-and-file GOP lawmakers are bypassing the proverbial salad bar and eyeing the burger and fries.

Over the first three weeks of the 2020 session, Republicans sponsored 11 bills authorizing more than $112 million in new bonding in their home districts. GOP lawmakers also backed another five measures seeking undetermined amounts of financing for various projects.

Republican leaders said their colleagues simply are doing their duty by asking to use Connecticut’s credit card for theaters, community buildings, rail facilities, police and fire stations, a 4-H camp and other projects.

But majority Democratic legislators — whom Republicans routinely blast for borrowing too much — are crying foul.

“This is the disconnection from the facts that the Republican party in the General Assembly is struggling with,” House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said Thursday.

“This is the disconnection from the facts that the Republican party in the General Assembly is struggling with.”

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz

“The Republicans’ math just doesn’t work,” said Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, who co-chairs the Appropriations Committee. “It just doesn’t fit.”

But Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, countered that rank-and-file Republicans are “duty-bound” to seek bonding for the projects their respective communities need the most. “This is a wish list legislators get from their towns,” he said.

Sen. Heather Somers, R-Stonington, asked for $4.25 million — $3 million to fund a water and sewer line extension in North Stonington, $500,000 to help construct a new, regional senior center in Griswold, and $750,000 to replace a fuel tank and the ice machine that support the fishing industry at Stonington pier.

“If a community asks you, as a senator, to put in a request that is essential to your community, that is your obligation,” Somers said.

“If a community asks you, as a senator, to put in a request that is essential to your community, that is your obligation.”

Sen. Heather Somers

But Lamont said Connecticut needs to get a better handle on these obligations.

With more than $26 billion in bonded debt, Connecticut outranks most states on a debt-per-capita basis.

The governor had called for General Obligation bonding — borrowing to be repaid out of the budget’s General Fund — to be limited to slightly less than $1.4 billion per year.

His fellow Democrats in the legislature pushed back, saying this would harm economic development and affordable housing efforts. 

Lamont was willing to consider an annual borrowing level of about $1.77 billion — provided legislators supported truck tolls to bolster transportation. The tolling plan never garnered sufficient support and Lamont abandoned it in mid-February. Republican leaders now want the governor to go back to his “debt diet.”

Rep. Chris Davis of Ellington, the ranking House Republican on the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, said GOP lawmakers can advocate for their respective communities and still support an overall, lean borrowing plan.

Sen. George Logan, R-Ansonia Arielle Levin Becker /

“A lot of these requests won’t go forward and they [other Republicans] understand that,” he said, adding that GOP requests are transparent but most of the asks being made by Democrats  remain hidden for now.

Democrats did introduce eight bills seeking nearly $21 million in bonding, and another two bills requesting an undetermined amount of funds. 

But most in the Democratic majority simply convey their requests privately to leaders on the bonding subcommittees of the finance board. Those projects may not be identified until the legislature votes on a full bond package weeks or months from now.

Sen. George Logan, R-Ansonia, also said Republican requests for bonding are about fairness.

Much of the money Connecticut borrows is focused in urban areas, where there is a concentration of poverty — and also where Democrats hold the majority of legislative seats.

“The entire state has issues, not just the urban areas,” said Logan, who is seeking $80 million to develop the Naugatuck Valley rail hub and another $5.6 million to repair a fire station and a community center in Hamden.

But Osten said the Republicans can’t escape their double-standard.

Democrats seeking bonding can defend their requests just as Logan and Somers did, but Osten said the GOP routinely characterizes projects in Democrats’ districts as frivolous and wasteful.

“To me, bonding is about doing things that help out our communities,” she said. “They [Republicans] believe in their projects. So do we.”

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. Hartford,regardless of party affiliation,does not get it.
    from The XL Center and Rentschler Field, to the Shakespeare Theater we see that the easiest money to spend is public debt.

  2. All politicians are guilty of excessive and wasteful spending, no matter the party. However. I find the Democrat Party more prone to use tricky accounting and bookkeeping maneuvers to hide their actions. I believe it is the Democrat Party that created all of our Quasi-Public Agencies in the state. Thus allowing them to offload and hide payroll, bonding, staffing and other expenses from the prying eyes of taxpayers. Additionally, the Democrats colluded with union leadership to use an Inflated Discount Rate for Pension Funds, to overstate returns and hide actually deficits. And finally, shifting or redirecting funds before they hit dedicated savings mechanisms such as the STF Lockbox, has only Democrat Fingerprints at the crime scene. So, I agree, both parties are guilty. However, one is more of a Repeat Offender.

  3. Gets dems. We know repubs do it too. Just not to the extent you do it. Besides, it’s every pols job to bring home the bacon to its constituent. Sound like awhinning school kids. I swear there no real adults in the room. Either party.

  4. I’m still stuck on the fact that paving a parking lot costs 300% more than repairing 7 high-hazard dams.
    I realize repairs could mean anything, but geez…….

  5. If any of these politicians were serious about cutting spending they would have implemented the spending cap in 1991 as they were supposed to by law. Hartley, Slossberg and Doyle forced the Democrat Party in 2017 to concede and do a bipartisan budget where Republicans finally got some caps on volatility and spending. After the 2018 disastrous GOP election cycle, the power was firmly back in the Democrats hands, and they IMMEDIATELY started looking for ways to get around the spending and volatility caps and now the debt diet.

    The reality is Connecticut will become insolvent if we do not have major economic growth coupled with serious economic reform focused on structural issues like pensions and benefits. Very few Democrats want to admit it but we have very little chance meeting future contractual obligations. Growth is the only way out and we are not growing fast enough so the downward spiral will continue as taxes on the middle class and our businesses will continue to climb.

  6. The author might have mentioned that the Governor’s original plan for bonding was $1 billion. The other $100s of millions came later.
    Also, like the federal debt, the real cost of bonding is the annual payments. The CBO has estimated that federal payments will come to 10% of an increased federal budget. I don’t know whether a similar calculation has been made for CT’s bonded debt, but the percentage is likely to be significant.
    So the disadvantage of bonding is that it crowds out other possible expenditures. The money isn’t free.

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