The state Senate and House of Representatives on Tuesday night both approved the annual bond package that spends more than $1 billion on various projects, including $105 million for a new, 10-year public preschool program as the state moves closer to the goal of universal access to preschool.
The chamber voted 30 to 6 with six Republicans voting negative. The other eight Republican caucus members voted in favor of the bipartisan package.
The initial debate of 17 minutes Tuesday was far shorter than more than five hours that the Senate spent debating fracking waste on Monday during a Republican filibuster.
“This bill makes a number of investments on the capital side, in order to improve the quality of our state, making us more competitive,” Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, said.
Fonfara, who co-chairs the powerful finance committee, called the bonding package “a bipartisan document” that reflects the priorities of the legislature and the governor.
Substitute Senate Bill 29 was then sent to the House of Representatives, where Fairfield County Republicans Livvy Floren of Greenwich and Terrie Wood of Darien immediately supported the measure at about 11:15 p.m. Tuesday. The House voted 136 to 8 on a bipartisan basis with 8 Republicans against the package, including Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, a candidate for lieutenant governor.
After spending most of Monday in long debates during Republican filibusters in both chambers, the House was moving at lightning speed on Tuesday night – in the busiest half hour of the session – by approving the bond package, the school construction, puppy mills, sudden cardiac death and e-cigarette bills in rapid succession before midnight. They then voted to approve the study of the feasibility of legalizing industrial hemp by 138 to 6 with 7 members absent.
In addition to some big ticket items, the bill contains some small-scale proposals as well, such as a proposal to spend $2.2 million to establish a statewide platform for the distribution of electronic books.
The bonding proposals ” touches on so many parts of not just government but improving the quality of life here in the state of Connecticut,” said Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford.
But Sen. L. Scott Frantz, a Greenwich Republican who serves on the committee that oversees bonding, said he was concerned that the bond package has grown too large for a small state to afford.
“We’re going to shoulder the next generation with way too much debt,” Frantz said.
“We are at now at what I consider a whopping $2.25 billion,” Frantz said on the Senate floor. “That strikes me as a lot. It’s getting to be to the point where it’s going to be very difficult to service this debt. Before hitting the green button or the red button, I would want everybody to pause and think about what we are doing to the next generation.”
“But there is a pricetag at which we cannot do it because we’re not growing fast enough as a state,” Frantz said.
Sen. Rob Kane, the ranking member on the budget-writing committee, asked for details about $3.3 million in bonding for the Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network for production, transmission, broadcast and computer equipment. Kane questioned the state’s role in funding public television.
“I don’t want to get into the whole fight that Mitt Romney got into with Sesame Street,” Kane said Tuesday. “I guess that’s in the past.”
The package includes $100 million for the Manufacturing Assistance Act, $60 million for road repairs in various towns, $50 million for public drinking-water projects, $30 million for the Connecticut Manufacturing Innovation Fund, more than $15 million for construction and repairs at fire training schools.
The bill also calls for $10 million for nonprofit groups for historic and cultural sites, $10 million for subsidized training and employment through the state labor department, and nearly $10 million for computers, classroom furniture, and portable classrooms at magnet schools as part of the settlement of the Sheff vs. O’Neill school desegregation lawsuit. The bill includes $10 million for local bridges and $3 million to reconstruct an off-ramp on the Merritt Parkway in Westport.
“Certainly, there’s a lot to digest in this package,” Kane said.
Sen. Jason Welch, a Bristol Republican who is retiring after this session and supports the bond package, said, “I always have to take a breath and pause with the bond package because the numbers are large.”
“Unlike Mitt Romney, I am a fan of Big Bird,” said Welch, adding, “I am a big fan of public radio.”
In other matters, both the Senate and House passed the annual school construction bill on a busy Tuesday – 24 hours before the scheduled adjournment of the 2014 General Assembly session. The Senate passed the bill unanimously, while the House voted 142 to 2 with two Republicans against and 7 members absent.