BRIDGEPORT (AP) — State lawmakers, facing numerous and costly transportation projects, are considering a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November forbidding the legislature from raiding the state’s Special Transportation Fund.
The Hearst Connecticut Media Group reports that the intent is to preserve the fund for use by the Transportation Department, which is under pressure with troubles on Metro-North Railroad and the state’s congested highways. The fund is used to finance debt on transportation projects.
But for more than 10 years, the legislature has used the fuel tax and other revenue to help plug gaps in the state’s budget.
The transportation fund typically holds $1 billion or more, which is a tempting target to legislators. Making a so-called lockbox part of the state constitution would prevent the legislature from taking the money to plug budget holes. Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, said an amendment is more effective than a law that legislators could repeal in a pinch.
“It is not getting any cheaper to fix our roads and bridges, which strengthens the argument to have a lockbox in place to establish safeguards,” said state Rep. Tony Guerrera, House chairman of the Transportation Committee.
The legislature unanimously approved a bill last year for a lockbox that would end the raids, but it was changed to delay the measure going into effect until 2015. Now, an airtight solution is being proposed by putting the authority for a lockbox in the state constitution.
Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, said changing the constitution is unnecessary because the governor backs a halt to transfers from the fund.
“Given that the governor has committed to eliminating any transfers from the Special Transportation Fund, this bill seems unnecessary at best,” he said.
Jill Kelly, co-chairwoman of the Citizens Transportation Lobby, said anger among commuters about poor service on Metro-North Railroad’s New Haven line, including two major derailments — one fatal — and other service disruptions have pressured state government to work to solve rail and highway problems.
“I am optimistic in believing that they will vote to put the lockbox in,” she said.
To reach the ballot in November, the resolution must be approved by three-fourths of the House and Senate.