HARTFORD — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy defended his decision to call a State Bond Commission meeting Friday, saying the state’s needs won’t wait for a better economy.
The commission approved $351 million in borrowing, bringing the yearly total to $597.4 million. Malloy, who chairs the commission, has set a self-imposed cap of $2.7 billion for the current fiscal year.
Republicans criticized the meeting, which comes as lawmakers look to plug a $390 million deficit in the current fiscal year and grapple with a $5 billion shortfall over the next two.
Rep. Chris Davis, R-Ellington, called the meeting “inappropriate” on multiple occasions, including when he announced at the start of the meeting that he would be voting against each item. He said the state is “facing major budget issues,” and pointed to Malloy’s announcement earlier this session that he wouldn’t convene a commission meeting until the budget picture became clearer.
“At this point I’m not sure we have that clear direction — we don’t know which direction we’re going in the state of Connecticut,” he said.
Malloy said during and after the meeting that the funding would be going to needed projects, including nine new housing units in Meriden for veterans, improvements to the American School for the Deaf, transportation upgrades, and a loan to a pharmaceutical company that will move from Arkansas to Windsor and hire 361 people.
“To pretend that those obligations will disappear or dissipate because of the economic challenges just is not truthful,” he said.
Rep. Emil “Buddy” Altobello, D-Meriden, a member of the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee, backed Malloy. He also said he doesn’t anticipate Malloy will convene another meeting before the end of June, so it was “time to pull the trigger” on Friday’s agenda.
“I think the items, for the most part, that were on the agenda today needed to move forward now,” Altobello said. “You’ve got a construction season coming up and you don’t want to miss it.”
Davis, a ranking member on the Finance committee, was the only member of the Bond Commission to voice his opposition, but the issue of voting brought about an unusual exchange between Malloy and Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich.
Frantz, Republican chairman of the Finance Committee, has routinely been critical of borrowing levels in the past, and continued his practice Friday of not voicing his vote. He said the commission “clerk knows I’m a ‘no’ on everything.”
“If you want to go on record as voting ‘no,’ you’ve got to vote ‘no,’” Malloye told Frantz. “That’s how government works.”
Malloy said afterwards it was “one of the weirder experiences I’ve had with members of the legislature of late.”
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, who is not on the commission but was at the Capitol Friday, agreed. “If you’re here, you’re an elected official,” he said. “You should let people know where you stand on issues.”
Frantz stood by his belief after the meeting, saying he “assumed” the clerk could understand by his remarks during meetings that he opposed agenda items.
“At the end of the day does it matter?” he asked. “What matters is the state is going off a fiscal cliff here very soon — we need to do something about it right away.”
Also Friday, Fitch Ratings Inc. lowered Connecticut’s bond rating from AA- to A+, but still said the state’s outlook is stable.
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said “beating up on this downgrade won’t solve the problem,” but also urged lawmakers to respond to it.
“In a bipartisan effort, we must chart a new and different course for Connecticut which is dramatically different from prior years,” he said. “We have to recognize that what has been put into place in our state has failed and we need to get serious about dramatic structural changes to government to earn back the public’s trust and confidence.”
Malloy, though, said during the meeting that the credit rating agencies are more focused on the state’s inability to address its budget issues and adopt a balanced spending plan, criticizing lawmakers from both sides in the process. He also said he’s ready to address the issue.
“I’m prepared to pass a budget today. I was prepared to pass a budget in February,” he said. “I’m prepared to pass a budget Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday.”
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