Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Some Cause for Optimism in Hartford on Funding for Clean Water

It seems, based on today’s Hartford Courant story, that advocates for putting more money in Connecticut’s Clean Water Fund did a first-rate job of making their case at the Capitol yesterday.

Environmentalists and municipal officials have formed the Clean Water Investment Coalition; they want the state to put $70 million in the Clean Water Fund this year, instead of $20 million, and it looks as if they’ve gotten full support from the Democrats who control the state Senate. The money would help fund the sewage treatment improvement projects that are essential to the cleanup of Long Island Sound. From the Courant:

The coalition's point is that limiting grants to $20 million each year does not come close to satisfying actual need. Current funding levels mean only one in five projects that are ready to proceed will be funded this year, according to the coalition. Only one in seven will be able to proceed next year, the coalition said.

The lack of grant funding has a real cost to taxpayers, said Matt Galligan, South Windsor's town manager. Projects that are delayed get more and more expensive because the cost of materials and construction increases each year.

"Every year we wait ... costs are going up 20 to 30 percent in the construction industry," Galligan said. What is now a $14.2 million project in South Windsor could become a $25 million project in a few years, simply because the state money isn't available to get the project started, he said. That's a waste of state and local tax dollars, Galligan said.

State Senator Bill Finch, a Bridgeport Democrat who is co-chairman of the environment committee, said Democrats want to put money back in the Clean Water Fund. The governor’s response, though, does not inspire confidence:

Adding grant money to that total is a priority for Senate Democrats, Finch said, although what the bond commission does is largely under the control of the governor.

A spokesman for Gov. M. Jodi Rell would not directly address the coalition's call for $70 million in grant money this year and $50 million for next year, but said Rell has increased spending.

Quote of the day:

In past years that program provided $40 to $60 million a year, on average, in grants. But that money disappeared in fiscal years 2002, 2003 and 2004.

"We stole the money to balance the budget," said state Sen. Bill Finch.


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