Governor Dannel Malloy's annual state of the state address today was unusual for its brevity and focus on a single issue--transportation.
The Governor spoke before a joint General Assembly session for about 15 minutes--last year's speech was more than twice as long and covered a myriad of issues, including the budget, tax relief, energy, job growth, regulatory reform, raising the minimum wage, and education.
A few hours after being sworn in for a second term, he called the state's aging transportation infrastructure "one of the largest challenges we face--something that has held us back for decades and that, left unfixed, would hamper our economy for decades to come."
"We know that transportation and economic growth are bound together," he said.
"States that make long-term investments in their infrastructure can have vibrant economies for generations. States that don’t, will struggle. It’s that simple."
Malloy said funding for transportation increased 65% over the last four years, saying his administration invested more for projects than any time since Bill O'Neill was Governor from 1980 to 1991.
"But here’s the problem: it’s still not enough," he said. "We have so much more to do."
The Governor said traffic congestion costs commuters an average 42 hours lost time annually, while costing the economy $97 million a day.
"Simply put, our investments have not kept pace with our needs, and our residents and businesses are paying the price," he said.
"To be competitive regionally, nationally, and internationally, we need a transformation. For our roads, bridges, rails, and ports–even our walkways and our bikeways."
Details in budget
Malloy's speech was short on details. He did propose widening I-95 and fixing its entrance and exit ramps; building new rail stations and upgrading branch lines; and creating a statewide bus transit service.
And he did not outline how the state will fund his vision for modernizing Connecticut's transportation infrastructure, saying the budget he presents next month will include "first steps."
"An honest conversation about our transportation future must include a dialogue on how we pay for new projects," he said.
"These are lofty goals. They might seem unattainable to some. They’ll say it can’t be done. That it’s not even worth trying. They’ll say we can’t do it while also working to balance our budget.
"I say we can’t afford not to do it."
Transportation lock box
Malloy did call for protecting dedicated transportation funds, a frequent source of legislative raids over the years to cover budget shortfalls and other government operating costs.
He proposed a "secure transportation lock box that will ensure every single dollar raised for transportation is spent on transportation," telling lawmakers he would immediately sign a bill that met that goal.
"Until that legislation is passed and signed, I will veto any attempt to levy additional sources of new revenue for transportation," he said.
Two days after his address. the Governor released a statement saying he was proposing both a constitutional amendment and statutory changes to protect transportation funds.
CBIA president and CEO Joe Brennan said protecting transportation funding has been part of the organization's policy agenda for years and he welcomed the Governor's proposal.
“We think it’s long overdue," Brennan said. "We’re hopeful that by the end of the session we can have a bill that will give people confidence that whatever revenues are dedicated to transportation will actually go into shovels in the ground… and transportation projects.
"The Governor's plans to ensure that transportation dollars are only used for transportation projects and to begin the discussion on how to transform our current system will go a long way towards making the state more attractive for both businesses and individuals to locate and invest."
Brennan added that national economic studies such as CNBC's America's Top States for Business typically assign poor marks to Connecticut's transportation infrastructure, contributing to the state' s overall poor business climate rankings.
"One of our worst individual rankings is transportation," he said. "We are always 40th out of 50 states in the country because we have an aging infrastructure."
The Governor now will present his budget on February 18, receiving a two-week extension today from the legislature.
That budget must address a projected $1.3 deficit for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.