HARTFORD — The Senate this week approved language for constitutional protection for the Special Transportation Fund, paving the way for the issue to appear on the ballot next year.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has made transportation improvements a key focal point of his second term as governor, but has also said he will not approve new transportation revenues for the transportation fund, projected to be insolvent by 2022, without constitutional protection for the fund.
“We must think big on transportation — there are billions of dollars at stake in productivity, commerce, and economic activity,” Malloy said in a statement after the vote Wednesday. “I think the people of our state agree that protecting transportation funding in a lockbox that cannot be raided and used for any other purpose is the right step forward for our state.”
The bill garnered a 29-7 vote in the Senate after receiving a 101-50 vote in the House Tuesday. It will now go to voters via referendum in November 2018, the next statewide election.
Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, one of the seven Republicans to vote against the bill in the Senate, expressed concerns that the language isn’t strong enough, particularly in ensuring that deposits are spent properly.
The resolution states that transportation expenses would be defined by statute, but Markley said that gives votes a “sense of false security” because future lawmakers can change those definitions.
“Let me say that we are perpetrating upon the people of Connecticut a fraud by passing a constitutional amendment for the purpose” of raising new revenues, he said.
Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly, said the language was written to provide future legislators with the ability to respond to unforeseen needs.
“We want to make sure that we are protecting these funds but also make sure there is protection for future legislators,” she said. Proponents have also said that’s why the bill doesn’t expressly state which revenue streams will go into the fund, another frequent complaint from residents.
Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said the proposed amendment should reassure residents because it would prevent lawmakers from raising the fund to balance the budget.