While Hamden regional business people, state legislators, and citizens tucked into a breakfast of bacon, eggs, and pastries on Wednesday, Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz got them ready to diet on debt.
About 60 people in all gathered at the Whitney Center or the Hamden Regional Chamber of Commerce’s annual Legislative Breakfast. Each year, the chamber hosts the breakfast so that local business leaders can network and hear from politicians about legislation coming down the pipeline at the state level.
After informal conversations with state legislators quieted down, Bysiewicz took the stage to deliver the morning’s keynote address.
“We believe our state is poised for success with new jobs on the rise, unemployment at historic lows and the growth of established and emerging sectors such as wind energy to information technology and biotechnology on the horizon. The governor and I also believe that delivering on those opportunities requires a sustained commitment to fiscal stability,” she said.
“Yesterday Governor Lamont announced that we are putting Connecticut on a debt diet,” she continued.
Lamont had announced at a legislative summit hosted by the Waterbury Regional Chamber that in order to improve the state’s fiscal position, he will stem state borrowing by putting the state on a “debt diet.”
Bysiewicz explained that the governor will cap annual bond authorizations at $960 million, a reduction of 39 percent from the $1.59 billion that the state averaged between 2012 and 2019.
“We can’t keep continuing to put Connecticut’s future on a credit card. We’ve already maxed those out,” she told the crowd.
The governor’s “debt diet” speech came in advance of the announcement of his proposed fiscal year 2020 budget, which will take place on Feb. 20.
“In order to live on this debt diet,” said Bysiewicz, “the governor and the Office of Policy Management will adjust and reprioritize our capital budget. Typically, that includes large scale transportation projects and school construction.”
She reassured the crowd that it “isn’t going to affect current construction projects.”
Connecticut’s tight fiscal position, she explained, resulted from “five decades of governors and legislatures that did not fully address our unfunded liabilities. They didn’t make 100 percent contributions for teacher pensions, for state employee pensions and for healthcare costs.”
The governor’s debt stance could mean that the state will soon have to start denying requests from municipalities for bonds that finance school construction and transportation projects.
Once Bysiewicz had finished her speech, an audience member stood up to voice her concern about what the debt diet would mean.
“Whenever I hear ‘debt reduction,’ to me that signals we’re not going to be spending money on our roads or education,” she said.
Bysiewicz replied that the administration will be “investing strategically in transportation infrastructure and in education.”
The bonding reduction will coincide with the school construction projects that Hamden has planned for the next three years, which will include renovations to, among others, the West Woods School, the Dunbar Hill School, and the middle school.
Legislative Council Rep. Lauren Garrett, who was at the event, said that she hopes that the bonding reduction will not jeopardize Hamden’s projects.
“The Office of School Construction Grants and Review is very supportive of our school building plans because we are addressing racial balance and looking at the whole district. [The office] has told us that they will put Hamden on the priority list,” she told the Independent.