Despite the coronavirus pandemic, some government business continues.
On Thursday, for the first time ever, Connecticut’s bond commission met virtually, to allocate more than $1 billion in funding approved by state lawmakers before closing down the Capitol in March.
Included in the package is $5 million to fight the coronavirus. State leaders say Connecticut has received a significant amount of stimulus dollars and will use the federal funding first before dipping into the bond money.
“We do think it is prudent, however, to have the capital dollars available in the event there was an emergency critical need,” said Melissa McCaw, the secretary of the Office of Policy and Management.
McCaw indicated any money not used for coronavirus would be unallocated at a future bond commission hearing.
A majority of the projects going on the state’s credit card Thursday were for transportation, $765 million worth, according to Gov. Ned Lamont. That included $51 million for state bridge projects and $360 million for interchange improvements on several state highways along with a widening project on I-84.
“That’s a fairly significant allocation compared to what we’ve done in years passed but it does keep us in a state of good repair as we continue to think about our long-term transportation needs,” said Lamont, a Democrat.
Some members raised concerns over the purchase of new train cars. Originally, the state planned to purchase new cars for Waterbury-Danbury line. However, McCaw said the state is reevaluating transportation enhancements in light of funding. The state decided to only purchase new cars for the shoreline because officials said they were the oldest and most needed replacing. Leaders said they will focus on repairing the existing infrastructure instead of enhancing. Both Democrats and Republicans urged the state’s transportation commissioner to find funding for the Waterbury-Danbury line as well, saying it was of economic importance.
Meanwhile, the commissioner approved $106 million to go directly to cities and towns. It’s money long overdue, held up in tolling talks last year. Half was supposed to be dolled out last July and the other half this January. Municipalities use that money for things like snow removal and road repairs.
Another $76 million was allocated to communities with a disproportionate amount of tax-exempt manufacturing equipment.
“Part of the funds of this goes to reimburse those communities for those tax-exempt properties and certainly at a time when we’re increasing our manufacturing capacity this is much-appreciated support for a lot of our towns and cities,” said Rep. Jason Rojas, who sits on the state bond commission. Rojas represents East Hartford and Manchester.
Lamont said that despite the pandemic, overall Connecticut is in a much better place financially than other states.
“Looks like we’ll be able to get through this fiscal year despite the fact that we’ve deferred over $2 billion in tax payments to July 15,” he said.
Millions of dollars are being allocated to improve the state’s IT systems in various departments.
However, the Department of Labor is not included, which members of the bond commission questioned.
State officials said they’ve already been fully funded for their own upgrades which weren’t scheduled to be fully functional until May of 2021.
However, officials say the tsunami of unemployment claims they’re now trying to process could impact that timeline.
Funding for court security and clean water was also appropriated on Thursday.