House Republican leader Larry Cafero, a University of Connecticut alumnus, says he was shocked to hear the size of a new, $2 billion proposal for UConn at a time when the state is facing a budget deficit in the current fiscal year and even larger deficits over the next two years.
The state legislature, where many members are UConn graduates, has already allocated $2.3 billion in construction costs and more than $1 billion in interest charges under then-Gov. John G. Rowland for two major expansion plans over 20 years that were known as UConn 2000 and 21st Century UConn.
“This one is called UConn Twilight Zone because you’ve got to be in the Twilight Zone to come up with this scheme at this time,’’ Cafero said. “Look, I’m a UConn alum. I love UConn. I bleed Husky blue.’’
But Cafero said he was dumbfounded by the pricetag when the state is still struggling from a sluggish economy and a continuing budget deficit.
“What are we thinking?’’ he asked. “How are we going to pay for this? … I don’t understand it. It doesn’t make any sense.’’
Cafero said that many rank-and-file legislators had no idea that Malloy was intending to unveil a massive proposal. The two top Democratic leaders in the legislature – Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams and House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey – attended the announcement in East Hartford, but Cafero and even veteran Democratic legislators had no advance notice.
“Hello? Do we have any say with regard to making the incredible policy change of putting residential dormitories at a branch of the university?’’ Cafero asked. “I think we should. Was the committee on higher education consulted? I think the answer to that is no. … The real question is: how are you going to pay for this? And if the answer is borrowing, my response is: are you kidding me? Moody’s is telling us don’t do it, and we’re doing it. So, that’s my frustration.’’
Cafero said he was also under the impression that the state would need to set aside money for increased school security and increased mental health expenses after the Newtown school shootings. Those items could include reinforced, solid doors and special ballistic glass that either can be paid by the municipalities or through a special fund that could be set up by the state.
“I know we’re going to have to borrow for Sandy Hook. We’re going to have to make the tough decision in lieu of what? But the governor has just made that decision harder by saying, ‘On top of that bonding, we’re going to do this new initiative.’ Never before done. Never discussed by the legislature.’’
Regarding Cafero, Malloy responded, “Listen, Connecticut is not going to move forward doing the same things we did unsuccessfully for 22 years. This is a big idea, and I know some people have a hard time wrapping their minds around a big idea. … For 22 years, we had no net job growth in a country where 48 states shared the creation of 23 million jobs. Doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting different results doesn’t work.’’