Gov. Ned Lamont helped to hand out more than $1.3 billion on Tuesday by voting to have the state borrow money to pay for various infrastructure projects, state grant programs, improvements at a mental health center in Bridgeport and a new train station in Enfield.
In total, the State Bond Commission, which Lamont leads, agreed to fund more than 50 different projects, programs and initiatives — some of which were championed by state lawmakers who are heading into a campaign season next year and are eager to bring home financial wins to their district.
As an example, Gov. Lamont, Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff and a number of other lawmakers representing the Norwalk area gathered on Monday to celebrate the state’s plans to contribute more than $1.2 million to the local YMCA and to spend another $5 million on renovations at the Gallaher Mansion, which is part of a city park.
“It gives me great satisfaction to see the work of our legislative delegation delivering this critical funding for the Norwalk YMCA and the Gallaher Mansion,” Rep. Chris Perone, D-Norwalk, said in a statement.
Bipartisan groups of lawmakers sent out similar press releases on Tuesday lauding the state money that would soon pour into their districts. The legislative delegation in Milford, for instance, noted the $600,000 that would go to a local community health center in their area. And several state lawmakers from Stamford thanked the bond commission for the $2 million their city will receive for a science center.
The more than $1 billion in spending that was approved Tuesday will be financed through state revenue and general obligation bonds, which Connecticut officials market to Wall Street investors and will eventually need to repay with interest.
Connecticut frequently relies on that type of borrowing capacity to finance school construction efforts, capital projects at state universities, transportation upgrades, building maintenance projects, land preservation deals and the smaller community projects that often benefit state legislators. This week’s meeting marked the third bond commission gathering this year.
State legislators largely control the first step in the borrowing process by adopting a two-year bond package, but after that, the governor and the executive branch get to decide what gets funded and when.
That gives governors in Connecticut a lot of power, and some, including Lamont, have used that influence as leverage when negotiating with legislative leaders in the past.
Gov. Lamont, who is also preparing for his own reelection campaign next year, kicked off the meeting on Tuesday by recognizing the long list of projects that the 10-member commission considered and approved.
“We have a very full agenda today,” Lamont said. “One of the reasons is because the state is in a pretty good financial position.”
Connecticut, Lamont said, is also benefiting from recent improvements in the state’s bond rating, which helps to determine what interest rate the state can borrow money at.
“All of that means the state of Connecticut can borrow more at less cost,” Lamont said
There were a wide array of spending priorities approved by the bond commission on Tuesday, including state matching funds for upgrades at Connecticut’s armories, cash grants to financially strapped municipalities, a long list of repairs at state offices and buildings and a number of line items meant to combat affordable housing and environmental issues.
The governor’s office, however, placed an emphasis Tuesday on more than $124 million that is intended to help small businesses, workforce training initiatives and community revitalization projects.
That spending includes tens of millions of dollars that will be distributed to businesses through the state Department of Economic and Community Development and millions more for local redevelopment efforts in Middletown, New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford. One of the more high-profile projects included on that list was $11 million to help renovate a Hilton hotel in downtown Hartford and to transform part of that property into 147 apartment units.
The Lamont administration also showcased roughly $839 million in transportation spending that will go toward state highway interchanges, traffic safety studies, local paving projects and rail improvements.
“Investing in our communities through revitalization projects, workforce development training and small business support is a key part of our plan to accelerate long-lasting and equitable economic development in Connecticut,” Lamont said.
“These investments are aimed at creating thousands of new jobs, improving the vibrancy and quality of life in our communities and making all corners of the state even more attractive for investment and opportunity,” he said.