Member of Transportation Finance Panel Wants To Postpone Lockbox Vote

One of the members of a panel examining ways to pay for $100 billion in transportation improvements warned Gov. Dannel P. Malloy against moving forward with a constitutional lockbox for transportation funds before January.

A resolution creating a constitutional lockbox for special transportation funds is expected to be debated today by the General Assembly in a special session. R. Nelson “Oz” Griebel, president and CEO of the MetroHartford Alliance, wrote a letter to Malloy on Monday asking him to postpone a vote on a constitutional amendment for transportation funds. In his letter, Griebel, reasoned that changes to the state budget will require substantive debate and will take time away from a meaningful debate on a constitutional amendment.

The second reason Griebel gave for postponing a vote on a constitutional amendment was the deadline for the transportation finance panel. The panel was supposed to finalize its recommendations in October, but received an extension. Perhaps the biggest reason to postpone a vote, according to Griebel, is the fact that the recommendations of the panel could include increases to existing funding sources, as well as implementation of electronic tolls. “Such increase and new sources will generate both concern and controversy, and the ultimate approval of the Constitutional resolution by both the Senate and the House will be achieved only with the broad support of voters and private sector employees,” Griebel wrote.

“Such support mandates an open and comprehensive Legislative process that enables all constituencies to voice their ideas and that thereby provides the basis for voter approval next November.” Griebel said there are also concerns about how the resolution will be drafted given the recent decision about the spending cap. Attorney General George Jepsen opined last month that the constitutional spending cap approved by voters in 1992 has “no legal effect” because the legislature never implemented it.

“The Attorney General underscores the critical importance of drafting an amendment that will be impervious to uncertainty and legislative prerogative,” Griebel wrote. But legislative leaders and Malloy were not persuaded Monday to delay debate on the issue. “The governor has asked us to do this now,” Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said Monday. Looney said the governor is interested in moving forward on this issue as “quickly” as possible.

“We support a constitutional lockbox — and we believe it needs to pass,” Devon Puglia, a spokesman for Malloy, said Monday. The hope is three-quarters of the General Assembly will approve the resolution today and the question will be on the ballot for voters on Nov. 8, 2016. If it passes with a simple majority then it will have to be approved again by a majority of the General Assembly and to be on the ballot for voters in 2018. Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said transportation is one of the biggest concerns of the business community. “I believe this is important,” Duff said. “I understand the timing is the timing and I certainly understand Oz’s point but I think we do need to move forward on this. It’s something that’s very important to the governor.”

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