Malloy’s budget chief confirmed Monday that the governor’s two-year capital plan — to be unveiled Wednesday along with the state’s proposed operating budget — will include $50 million in 2018 and $75 million in 2019.
“We are essentially suggesting, if the legislature approves this funding, they are committing to the full $250 million,” Ben Barnes said.
Barnes said the proposal is consistent with other state investments in downtown Hartford, including apartment conversions, Front Street and the new University of Connecticut campus.
Well, no, not really. A new UConn campus at least benefits UConn students, who are otherwise being packed in increasing numbers into Storrs, an infinitesimal town in the eastern part of the state that is only accessible by mule train. (I may be exaggerating, but as I was reminded when I spoke there in November, not by much.) A renovated arena with an extra 3,000 seats benefits getting more people to go to events at the arena, I guess, but there aren’t many of those. So why exactly is this a priority for state spending?
When the arena upgrade was first proposed a couple of months ago, the best argument anyone could come up with was that millennials won’t live downtown unless it has a nicer hockey arena. But more recently, of course, there has arisen another, even less likely, goal: Luring the New York Islanders to Hartford.
“I’m going to send another letter to the commissioners spelling out what we think would be appropriate in the modernization of that facility so he may have an understanding of what we are trying to do,” Malloy said. “Listen, this is a long shot, but if you don’t reach out and if you’re not in the discussion, then you can’t be considered.”
Okay, sure, saying you’re willing to upgrade your arena if a team is willing to move there — and even having an upgrade plan ready to go — isn’t a terrible idea. The two things you don’t want to do, though, are: committing to the money without first getting a lease agreement from a team that you’re sure will help repay the cost of upgrades; and committing to the money without even being sure a team will come at all. Those are the two things Gov. Malloy is now doing, because Gov. Malloy apparently thinks a quarter-billion dollars grows on trees.
State legislators are less sure about the money trees, according to the Hartford Courant, which notes that “there is a growing resistance to using bonds — essentially the state’s credit card — for big-ticket projects when funding is being cut to social service programs, road improvements and school programs.” With the state already facing a $1.3 billion deficit, you have to think that spending $250 million on a hockey arena with no hockey team will prompt at least a little bit of debate, but we’ll see how it goes as budget season kicks into full gear.