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Assured Of Its Passage, Newtown Delegation Votes No On $2B Bonding Measure

All four members of Newtown's legislative delegation - Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, along with Reps Mitch Bolinsky, DebraLee Hovey and Dan Carter - knew from day one of this year's session, that the community would be "made whole" post 12/14 with state funding to rebuild Sandy Hook School.

So when it was clear the Democratic majority would handily pass a massive bonding package the four lawmakers say contained $750 million in cash for "operating expenses" alongside a $50 million allocation for a new school, all four of Newtown's delegation felt justified voting against the $1.8 billion measure.

Sen McKinney, and the three representatives spoke to The Bee this week. All detailed their reasons for taking what Rep Bolinsky called a "philospohical stand as fiscal conservatives" against what the first-term lawmaker believes is one of the largest general bonding initiatives in the state's history.

So how did such a massive bonding measure come about?

According to a Connecticut Mirror analysis, during his 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Dannel Malloy pointed to how one-time revenues used by then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the legislature helped create a mammoth, $3.7 billion annual budget deficit he subsequently inherited in 2011.

Gov Malloy pledged repeatedly to immediately begin converting state finances to GAAP, an accounting system that promotes accountability and transparency. Unlike a modified cash basis system currently used, under GAAP, expenses must be promptly assigned to the year in which they were incurred.

In the context of the state budget, that would end an array of accounting gimmicks that have pushed current expenses into future years. If GAAP standards are used, however, state finances are deep in the red - state analysts recently pegged the differential at $1.2 billion.

Gov Malloy originally planned to close that margin by setting aside $80 million annually for 15 years starting this July. But the governor and legislature had to close a big projected deficit just to balance the next budget, so the idea of paying cash to build the entire GAAP reserve was scrapped.

By borrowing $750 million now, it leaves a balance of $450 million additional that Gov Malloy and lawmakers must reserve by 2028 to complete the GAAP conversion, according to the Mirror report.

'More Like $3 Billion'

But Rep Hovey contends that once all the payments and interest are accounted for this year's bonding package will cost state taxpayers "more like $3 billion."

At the same time, she said it was "disappointing to see the Newtown school bond end up in there because I would not be supporting the bill."

"That's why you see me voting for the school bond amendment," Rep Hovey said, "because I wanted to show support for the school piece (of the overall measure)."

Rep Hovey said an eleventh-hour, and as yet unexplained, movement of Sandy Hook bonding from a routinely and perennially passed school bonding bill to the omnibus bonding package put the four Newtown delegates "so intimately involved in the recovery process, at odds with something we supported one-thousand percent."

Rep Carter said he understood in the hours following his arrival for this year's session that Newtown had "unwavering support for rebuilding the school." And he would have supported the Sandy Hook funding as a hybrid project under the Department of Education's bonding measure.

"I don't know why they moved it to the (general) bonding package," Rep Carter said.

And there was no way Rep Carter could back the Sandy Hook spending when it came attached to the "dangerous fiscal policy of borrowing to pay operating expenses."

"Policy-wise, that bonding package is horrible, but that's politics," he said.

Senator McKinney was equally perplexed to see the Sandy Hook School funding jump from the school to the general bond packages.

"I don't know why," Sen McKinney said, suggesting, "Maybe it has to do with promised federal reimbursement."

He said up until the bond's sudden migration, work among all Newtown delegates and various local, state and elected officials within the framework of a very complex  process for school construction underwriting was going "remarkably well."

In discussing his reasoning behind voting against the general bonding measure despite its containing Sandy Hook funding, Sen McKinney was quick to bring up a move to shift stem cell research from an operating to a bonded expense.

Rep Hovey, who serves on the Public Health Committee, was also firmly against bonding for the state's stem cell research initiative. "It's just bad fiscal practice," she said.

Paying For A Mistake

Sen McKinney also points to bonding money for fixing a well-meaning job creation program that went horribly wrong.

"The budget cut an insurance premium tax credit program designed to create jobs, tax credits already promised to companies in economic development deals they could access annually," Sen McKinney said. "Now we're borrowing $40 million so companies that qualify for the credit can get reimbursement. The state gave and took the deal away, and know we're making up for it with borrowed money."

Rep Bolinsky knew it was never a question that the state would make Newtown whole - "That school was going to be funded. It just came down to the direction it would go."

He said the Newtown delegation worked for months getting a fast-tracked and hybrid project prioritised on the state school construction bill, and he was "not privy to how we got that bill for Sandy Hook into the general bonding package."

"A lot of things in it were offensive to us," Rep Bolinsky said of the general measure. "But as a fiscal conservative, you have to vote against bonding operating expenses."

He later chuckled when asked if he thought there would be a need for a special session this year.

"This borrowing package is as large as ever, because we're essentially bonding the money to pay the light bills," he said. "It's pretty unlikely we'll have a special session to close revenue gaps this year with all the extra cash they're getting."

Rep Carter said he might have considered backing a general bonding measure, "but that $750 million really got to me, I'm not unreasonable, but this one was not good."

"But I'm happy the school will be paid for," Rep Carter added, "and that the state lived up to ots commitment to make Sandy Hook whole."

Photo: John Voket

Race Director Cody Foss, in foreground with microphone, directs hundreds of participants at the starting line for Saturday morning's Mad Dash to benefit the Newtown Youth Academy.

Comments

News or Just Politics

I wonder whether this is actually News or Politics. It is very nice of the Bee reporter to run what is clearly a public relations piece to cover these four politicians because they voted against the Sandy Hook School Bonding. One also wonders whether there just might be a different point of view that would have been expressed by the other side of the aisle. Most political parties would have had to pay for this type of Public Relations, but this was free. Well that's the press for you. It used to be "all the news that was fit to print" now it is "only the news we want you to know". So read to your heart’s content, but also know you are only getting part of the story.

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