On Monday night, the Connecticut General Assembly narrowly approved the two-year $37.6 billion state budget for fiscal years 2014 and 2015, which transfers nearly $110 million from the state’s dedicated Special Transportation Fund into the general fund. But yesterday, the General Assembly passed lockbox legislation restricting monies in the Special Transportation Fund for transportation purposes.
Earlier this year, lawmakers proposed several bills and a constitutional amendment to prevent diversions from the fund. Tri-State testified in support of a lockbox provision, but efforts stalled early on in the session. Lawmakers, however, persevered, adding lockbox language to an omnibus transportation bill (SB975) that passed the state Senate on Saturday and the House on Wednesday. The amendment was the result of a bi-partisan effort led by Democratic Transportation Committee Chairs Sen. Andrew Maynard and Rep. Antonio Guerrera, and ranking Republican members Sen. Toni Boucher and Rep. David Scribner, as well as Sen. John Kissel (also a Republican). The language would go into effect in mid-2015, after the FY14-15 budget ends.
The key passage in the lockbox legislation simply states: “The resources of the Special Transportation Fund shall be used only for transportation purposes.” Whether that will be enough to protect against future diversions remains to be seen, but it sends a signal that lawmakers aren’t happy with the status quo.
In the meantime, the current budget will take a significant sum away from its intended purpose — maintaining transportation infrastructure — and use it to plug a gap in the General Fund for a year or two, at best. The Special Transportation Fund, which is primarily funded by the state gasoline tax, is dedicated to support state highways, bridges and mass transit, and has been repeatedly raided for non-transportation programs. The newly approved budget breaks transportation promises made by Governor Malloy dating back to 2009, when he promised to preserve the dedicated fund for transportation projects. It also raises CT TRANSIT bus fares by 20 cents and paratransit fares by 15 percent.
Connecticut has already accumulated a backlog of maintenance and repair needs. Out of the state’s 4,182 bridges, 10 percent are ranked “structurally deficient” and in poor condition, according to Transportation for America. The state and municipalities maintain more than 17,100 miles of road, three-quarters of which are not in good condition.
It’s not just roads and bridges that so desperately need attention: the recent Metro-North Rail derailment and collision in near Bridgeport that injured dozens sends an alarming signal that more investment needs to be made on rail infrastructure, and spurred elected officials to call for more spending on rail safety and reliability.