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Connecticut residents to vote on proposed constitution amendments

October 13, 2018

Besides voting for state and federal legislators on the ballot this November, Connecticut residents also will be deciding on two proposed amendments to the state’s constitution. They involve two contested topics: the state’s special transportation fund and sale procedures for state-owned lands.

The first question will ask voters if the state should constitutionalize a “lockbox” to ensure transportation revenues are spent only on transportation-related initiatives and debts. If passed, the state legislature would be prohibited from using those funds for nontransportation purposes.

The question is being posed after state legislators passed a statutory change in 2015 to enact a lockbox for transportation funding, and seems to have bipartisan support.

That initiative originally was brought forth after legislators “raided” tens of millions from the state’s special transportation fund several times to help balance the state’s budget in the past two decades, according to Zack Hyde, a senior transportation policy adviser for the Office of Policy and Management.

Voters this November will decide whether the statutory protections should be strengthened into a constitutional lockbox, “further ensuring transportation funds are spent only on transportation projects going forward,” said Leigh Appleby, a spokesman for the governor.

It’s an especially pressing decision, proponents argue, as the state is facing critical infrastructure upgrades and repairs in upcoming years.

“This is, in one respect, to ensure that funds needed for several upcoming infrastructure upgrades will be there in the future,” Appleby said. 

In southeastern Connecticut, for example, necessary upgrades are planned along Interstate 95. According to a study released by the governor earlier this year, cost predictions for widening I-95 between exits 70 and 74 hovers around 900 million.

The current balance of the STF, according to a Sept. 20 comptroller’s reporter, is $305.7 million, Hyde said.

Additionally, the proposed amendment has been written to ensure that revenues meant to go into the STF — such as motor fuels tax, a portion of the state’s sales tax and motor vehicle-related fines, among other sources — indeed will end up in the STF, instead of being diverted to other funds.

Such language stipulations are being deemed as a necessary and important “caveat” to the proposal, according to state Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme.

The second proposed amendment will ask voters whether the constitution should require additional reviews and public hearings prior to the sale or transfer of state-owned land, such as state parks, state forests and conservation areas.

The amendment additionally would require the General Assembly, even after public hearings, to pass a two-thirds majority vote to authorize the transfer, sale or disposal of land under the control of the state agriculture or environmental protection departments.

Proponents say the measure would improve transparency by allowing for greater scrutiny of the sale and transfer of state land.

Presently, as of 2018, a simple majority vote in each legislative chamber is required to pass land conveyance legislation.

The measure is being brought forward after legislators approved, in 2011, a controversial deal known as the Haddam land swap. The swap, in effect, would have allowed a developer to trade 87 acres of privately owned forestland for 17 acres of state land near the Connecticut River. The deal enraged environmentalists before eventually falling through.

A similar issue arose in 2013, when the legislature voted to give 8 acres of Hammonasset Beach State Park to the town of Madison.

In order for proposed constitutional amendments to be placed on the ballot, 75 percent of the legislature must approve doing so, or a majority of both houses must approve doing so in two consecutive legislative sessions. Once on the ballot, the proposals require the support of a simple majority of voters to pass.

m.biekert@theday.com

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