- Associated Press - Friday, May 8, 2015

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is urging state lawmakers in the final weeks of this year’s legislative session to pass his version of a bill that would ensure transportation revenues are spent only on transportation projects.

The Democratic governor said creating a so-called lockbox for transportation revenues is the first step toward overhauling Connecticut’s transportation system. Malloy has proposed spending $100 billion over 30 years to rehabilitate and improve the state’s transportation system, including highways, bridges and rail.

“This issue has kicked around for a long time,” Malloy told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “I think we need to resolve it.”

Malloy’s bill, which would make the existing Special Transportation Fund a perpetual fund, restricting use for only transportation purposes, is awaiting action in the House of Representatives. A similar bill is awaiting action in the Senate. But that legislation includes an escape clause allowing the legislature, by a three-fifths vote in each chamber, to use Special Transportation Fund money in an emergency.

“I’ve heard that some folks want to have an escape clause,” Malloy said. “I don’t think that’s where we can start this discussion with the people of Connecticut.”

Rep. Tony Guerrera, co-chairman of the Transportation Committee, said Friday that he supports Malloy’s bill and plans to call it for a vote in the House soon.

“If we’re serious about making Connecticut one of the best in the nation, we have to do this,” he said. “Everything the governor has proposed in that bill, I can’t disagree with.”

The legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Legislative Research, however, has raised questions in its analysis of the proposed legislation about whether one legislature can restrict a future legislature’s ability to enact legislation. If that’s the case, an amendment to the state constitution would then be required to stop future legislatures from raiding the fund.

In the meantime, Guerrera said he might also call up a bill that would require the Department of Transportation to develop a plan for implementing tolls, a potential revenue source for Malloy’s proposed overhaul. A new task force created by the governor is expected to make recommendations by the end of this summer on ways to fund the program.

Oz Griebel, president and CEO of MetroHartford Alliance and a member of Malloy’s task force, said his business organization still wants lawmakers to pass the legislation creating the lockbox this session and then push to amend the state constitution with similar language that protects the funds from being spent on non-transportation expenses. He worries the issue has been overshadowed by the state’s fiscal challenges.

“Right now, all the oxygen is getting sucked out the room by the debate on the budget,” he said. “I’m confident it will happen, but that’s certainly not a guarantee.”

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