One line in the governor’s budget proposal has the entire construction industry in Connecticut on edge for fear of seeing multi-million-dollar projects put on hold.
“You’re going to put a lot of construction workers on the street when you shut this down,” said Don Shubert with the Connecticut Construction Industry Association.
The proposal in question would leave an estimated $91 million in revenue from tax applied to new car sales in the general fund of the Connecticut budget, instead of being moved over to the Special Transportation Fund, which was included in the most recent state budget, supported by both Democrats and Republicans.
Shubert warns that if those funds are not diverted to the STF, then the fund could face insolvency, which would leave projects valued in the hundreds of millions, like a renovation of the Charter Oak Bridge in Hartford, on hold.
“That’s a major project that’s going to have a big impact on the Hartford area,” Shubert said. “If that project is stalled out, it’s only the beginning.”
Previous estimates by the Office of Policy and Management, the state’s budget agency, projected the STF could be insolvent as soon as 2021.
New OPM Secretary Melissa McCaw told reporters Thursday such talk is overblown, especially against the backdrop of the governor proposing putting the state on a “debt diet,” limiting the amount of debt issued for all projects, meaning less money is being withdrawn from the fund.
“We don’t have an immediate solvency issue in the Special Transportation Fund if we make strategic decisions now to begin to implement this plan so there are revenues in place before an insolvency occurs,” McCaw said, alluding to the governor’s proposal to install tolls on state highways in some form, either for trucks or for all vehicles.
New Transportation Commissioner Joseph Giuletti told reporters he was not sure whether any projects, like the Charter Oak Bridge, would need to be postponed indefinitely as a result of the transfer of funds back to the general fund. Giuletti, who previously served an executive on Metro North Railroad, said he hasn’t yet examined all of the financials of his new department.
“From my standpoint, I’m at five weeks right now. I’m not at a point where I’m going to say that is the case right now,” Giuletti said. “We’re going through an evaluation on that. Of course if we don’t come up with these formulas that are going to provide that funding moving forward, that is going to be something that has to be considered.”
Dennis Shugrue is currently a crane operator on an MDC project in Hartford, a job he expects to continue to work on for at least another year.
“No job is permanent,” Shugrue cautioned.
He said even though he’s not sure he would have been one of the engineers working on the Charter Oak Bridge project, he was at least hopeful that the state would keep authorizing major jobs to keep guys like him working. Now, he’s less certain.
"To wake up every morning and not have a job, that's not a great feeling, especially when you have a mortgage and everything to pay,” he said. “It's tough enough to live in this state. When you don't have a job and you don't know where your next paycheck will come in, it's a scary thing."