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Hartford - A broken railroad bridge in Connecticut that snarled the commutes for hundreds of thousands twice in eight days recently has become the latest flashpoint in a political fight over transportation funding.
The practice by lawmakers and previous governors to use the transportation fund - and other dedicated funds such as those for energy conservation and other initiatives - as piggy banks producing easy sources of money has drawn fire from advocates and special interest groups for years.
State Sen. Toni Boucher, the ranking Republican senator on the legislature's Transportation Committee, accused Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration this week of transferring $184 million from the special transportation fund since the Democrat took office in 2011.
Following a meeting with Metro-North officials on Monday about the broken Norwalk bridge, Malloy was asked if he would promise that the practice of such transfers would stop.
"It doesn't happen," Malloy said.
The governor's office on Wednesday provided financial data showing that since Malloy took office in January 2011, his administration removed $76.5 million from the transportation fund in 2014. However, it deposited nearly $381 million the same year. Data show Malloy has steadily increased funding from gas tax revenue, from $10.5 million in 2004 to $379 million this year.
"Connecticut has put more money into transportation," Malloy said, though he added that "accounting adjustments" track revenue into and out of the fund.
The fund is generated by the 25 cent-a-gallon gas tax, an 8.1 percent petroleum products gross earnings tax and motor vehicle fees.
In an election year and at a time when Metro-North has had several failures in the past year and highway and bridge fixes can cost billions of dollars, dipping into the transportation fund - even if withdrawals are more than compensated for with deposits - is roundly criticized.
Rep. Tony Guerrera, co-chairman of the Transportation Committee, said previous governors and legislative leaders have transferred money from the transportation fund to compensate for reduced tax revenue in the recession and other reasons. "I can't argue with the critics on that," he said.
A move to amend the state Constitution to make the transportation fund a lockbox that can be breached only by a two-thirds vote in the legislature has failed to advance because state officials believe the problem doesn't warrant changing the Constitution, he said.
But arguments over the fund are almost moot because transportation projects are so costly and outstrip revenue put into the transportation fund, Guerrera said. Replacing the Norwalk bridge, for example, would cost $460 million, with more than $100 million in state funding and the rest being sought from the federal government.
Deposits ranging from $270 million to nearly $380 million each year since 2011 can't keep up, he said.
"It's a lot of money, but it's not enough," Guerrera said.