Friday, September 21, 2007

Connecticut Legislators Approve $110 Million for Clean Water Fund But Will It Survive a Veto by the Governor?

Finally the Connecticut State Legislature passed a bonding package that includes money for the Clean Water Fund -- $110 million a year over two years, which is plenty to get Connecticut’s portion of the Long Island Sound cleanup back on track.

But there are two points of view about what yesterday’s vote means.

Curt Johnson, of the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, left Hartford last night proclaiming a great victory.

Terry Backer, the Soundkeeper and a Legislator who represents Stratford, thinks victory is not at all assured. He expects Governor Rell to veto the package and says the legislators will almost certainly have “to go back and try again.”

First, here’s what Curt wrote in an e-mail to the Long Island Sound Watershed Alliance:

Tonight we are all partners in a remarkable re-investment in clean water. Due to all of your support and the incredible leadership of Senator Eileen Daily and Representative Cam Staples (co-chairs of finance), Senator Don DeFronzo and Representative Keeley (co-chairs of bonding sub-committee) and the steadfast support from Don Williams and Jim Amann, *this marks the best news for Long Island Sound clean water funding in two decades -- $110 million in clean water fund general obligation bonds for both this and next year. * While many, many other legislators came out in strong support of this renewed investment, Representative Betty Boukus deserves special thanks for her dogged advocacy and determination.

After nearly two decades of consistent funding by the Connecticut legislature, excellent administration by the CT DEP and great clean water progress, the fund was raided extensively beginning in 2003. No money, no progress, a fading chance of meeting critical clean water goals. We realized we needed to join hands with all of you to make real change possible.

Thanks to the many of you who joined us in the Clean Water Investment Coalition successfully calling for a major re-investment in our clean water future. Not only environmental groups, but civil engineers, unions, the Connecticut Conference for Municipalities, sewer districts. Clean Water. Good Jobs. A Strong Economy. And thanks for all your phone calls, emails and letters that brought
this issue alive for legislators.

While the DEP and towns have made great progress, there is still a long way to go. For example, each year 2 billion gallons of raw sewage flows from combined sewer overflows into local rivers and the Sound during rain events.

Two billion gallons of raw sewage dumped into our waterways each year is a shocking level of pollution. It is the equivalent of two tankers—like you see out on our Sound—each dumping a full load of raw sewage into our waterways every week. This $220 million investment is the highest funding level to date and is a critical step in combating this public health threat. This is not only an investment in the water quality of Long Island Sound; it is an investment in our future.

So thank you all for your great work on this issue. It is important to recognize our big environmental victories!

Terry Backer however isn’t quite as sanguine. He sent this to me at 1:30 in the morning:

I just got home from the State House after a good 14 hours in session. The road from Hartford to Stratford is longer at 1:00 AM. Well, as the saying goes I have good news and bad news. The legislature passed a bonding bill that included $110 million dollars per year for two-year biennium for the State Clean Water Fund; the bill now goes to the Governor’s office. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the Governor has made overtones that she may veto the bill. Apparently she has concerns that the rather large bonding bill that surpasses her maximum by something like $600 million and will cause the state’s bond rating to be lower by the bond rating organization thus trigger higher interest cost.

I had hoped that an agreement might have been reached to take care of the essentials like schools, clean water, roads and alike and all the other items that drove the cost higher left for another session. In that way the people would have got what they needed and the legislators who ask for all this stuff would have gone home without the bacon but with the pride of knowing they took care of the important matters that affect everyone. That did not happen. Now we are left with uncertainty on Clean Water and will almost certainly have to go back and try again.

If a remark made to me by one legislator on the way out is any indications I am worried. I said to him we should have just taken care of the big important projects and avoided this show down. He looked at me and said “Hey I haven’t got any bonding for my town in three years”. A statement that is certainly untrue. What he meant is he hadn’t got and special project bonding.

I am afraid he would sacrifice Clean Water money for a new ball field, a town hall make over or some other like project. I hope he is in the minority.

I voted for the bill. I ensure everyone that the Oyster Shell Coalition will keep up the fight.

Terry Backer

I found two stories today that talk about some of the pork barrell projects that Terry thinks will prompt Rell's veto, here and here.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Terry said...

Tom,

Yesterday I received an order of the Governor delivered by the state police, as all legislators did, commanding a special session on Wednesday. In her proclamation the Governor announced she will veto the bonding bill, Emergency Certified Senate Bill 1501 that contains the Clean Water Fund money.

The special session will be to pass a bond authority for municipal and regional school district so they will not have to borrow money to pay contractors for school construction. I guess she is unaware that many of the same towns will need to borrow money to pay for the ongoing improvement and construction of sewage treatment plants. There must be only a very small window in the Governors office reducing their view of the world.

Long Island Sound is suffering from some very bad politics on all fronts. I am hoping to salvage the Clean Water Money at a later date. The leaders of the legislature and the Governor need to forget special projects, which are not all bad, and take care of the big needs. However, its broad based power plays at work – it’s like a war, there seems the need to shed a lot of blood before the resolution that was clear in the beginning can be implemented. And Long Island Sound is caught up in the blood letting.

I stay at it.
Backer

8:48 AM  

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