A new, tighter transportation budget
Updated 11:59 am, Tuesday, June 9, 2015
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy accepted a shortchanged version of his sweeping vision to spend $100 billion over the next 30 years to fix the state’s deteriorating rails, roads and bridges.
But that didn’t stop Malloy from declaring the funding levels a historic achievement.
“We can now get moving on a best in-class transportation system with this largest investment in state history,” Malloy said after the General Assembly adjourned June 3.
While the investment is substantial, it could have been much larger.
The new state budget delays Malloy’s plan to divert a half percent of the state’s sales tax to the Special Transportation Fund and — at least at this point — there is no lockbox to prevent lawmakers from raiding the shrinking fund in the future.
More than $315 million in gas tax and other revenue scheduled to go into the STF over the next two years was diverted to the General Fund to pay for deficit reduction and other needs.
The STF will still grow, although not by as much as Malloy proposed. The fund will increase by $156 million next year and $276 million in 2017, thanks to sales tax revenue.
And all the wrangling and late night budget sessions left supporters of improving the state’s deteriorating transportation system scratching their heads.
“I’m still trying to figure out what happened and the bottom line for transportation, “ Cameron said. “I am anxious to hear the governor explain what happened to his lockbox.”
Overall, $2.8 billion will be spent over the next five years, including $1.8 billion for rail upgrades, $613 million for highway improvements, $281 million for bridge repairs, $101 million for bicycle and pedestrian trails and $43 million to expand bus service.
When bonding and federal funding is added to the mix, spending over the next five years will reach $10 billion, Malloy said.
During an interview with Hearst Connecticut Media, Malloy said widening I-95 from Greenwich to Bridgeport is a top priority.
“It’s the most congested, “ the governor said.
Other large projects include fixing the “Mixmaster” on I-84 in Waterbury, the Hartford I-84 Viaduct and completing the a Hartford commuter line between New Haven and Springfield, Mass.
The plan also includes improvements to increase service on Metro-North’s New Haven Line, including a new station in Bridgeport, and upgrading branch lines in New Canaan, Danbury and Waterbury.
But anyone expecting cranes on the highways and major work to be underway quickly will be disappointed.
Malloy said the next few years will mostly involve design work for various project.
“I’m not going to build overnight, “ Malloy said. “It’s a 50-year pay-out plan and a 25-year build-out.”
Boucher said she’s disappointed the budget contains no money for needed projects such as electrifying the branch lines, and a lockbox was not placed on the STF.
She said the funding will only maintain the status quo. “This will take care of current needs, “ Boucher said.
Democrats viewed the transportation funding as a historic accomplishment.
“This session we set the framework for a once-in-a-generation investment in our transportation infrastructure ... and improve the quality of life for residents who use our roads and rail system, “ said State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk.
Less than expected
The new budget adopts Malloy’s plan to use the state sales tax to fortify the STF, which has lost billions over the decades as lawmakers and governors from both parties diverted money to other uses.
But Malloy got less than he wanted.
According to the non-partisan state Office of Fiscal Analysis, .3 percent of the sales tax will go into the STF beginning Oct. 1.; the amount will increase to .4 percent in 2014; and to half a percent of the 6.35 percent sales tax in 2017.
Malloy initially proposed sending a half percent of the sales tax to the STF beginning in 2016.
The failure to place a lockbox on the Special Transportation Fund is significant because it’s a hinge which allows Malloy to leverage the dedicated pot of money into billions in revenue backed bonds, which are repaid through small yearly withdrawals from the fund.
Sources close to Malloy said the lockbox will either be authorized through budget implemented bills still to be passed, or as a bill during an expected legislative special session.
“This is an opportunity for me to lock in funding of a long term project, and make sure the revenue is in a lockbox, “ Malloy said.
“Every dollar of gasoline tax will go into that lock box, every dollar of oil receipts and every dollar of the half cent of the sales tax will go into the lockbox, “ the governor said.
Malloy said money pumped into the STF will eventually reach $300 million a year or more.
“In 10 years, it’s $3 billion. That’s a lot of bonding capacity, “ the governor said.