Editorial: Taking a toll

At the time of the last election, even some of the more critical observers of Connecticut’s state government seemed to attempt to be optimistic. The previous era had come to end. Connecticut Democrats remained in power, including some surprising state upsets — though many, including local Democrats themselves, celebrated the win as more about a “rebuke” of President Donald Trump than citing a validation of the party’s state leadership.

Despite the same party being in charge, some local leaders expressed optimism in Gov. Ned Lamont’s leadership, willingness to listen and lack of partisanship.

And many who were concerned about their tax burdens and property values in November thought — well, at least it can’t get any worse.

They were wrong. From regionalization of schools (which may now be off the table at least for this budget) to proposing motor vehicle taxes going to the state to partially imposing the cost of teacher pensions on the town, this legislative session has proven to be less about improving Connecticut and more about proposals that seek to place the burden of others’ previous mistakes on towns that held no responsibility for them.

Many of these have eased as the legislative session has continued, but it isn’t really over until the formal end of the legislative session in June. History has shown that many last-minute additions and changes to bills before votes can have significant impact.

One of the many issues up for debate is a plan for highway tolls. The proponents for tolls say that out of state travelers should pay for their use, that many other states have them, and that the money is needed to improve transportation infrastructure.

Even if we assume that is true, Hartford has a problem in that many taxpayers don’t trust it with their money. Given the way that this last legislative session has gone — that mistrust is valid. Tolls won’t just impact out-of- state residents. And who is to say if residents pay into this toll structure that the money slated for improving state roads will actually be used for that? Who is to say after millions are raised, it isn’t funneled somewhere else — and in a few years we’ll have a proposition to have towns pick up part of the cost of infrastructure repairs, much like teacher pensions?

It is hard for some Connecticut taxpayers to look at a toll proposition simply on its merits when it feels like towns, especially in Fairfield County, already don’t get much back on their investment. Tolls just feel like another tax — with a different name, and the added burden of additional traffic on local roads as drivers look to avoid paying.

In that way, this state’s legislative session has already taken its toll — on cost-weary residents who don’t trust their state leaders with the money they already have paid, on the trust that taxpayers should have for their elected representatives, and on the optimism voters may tentatively have had for a new era of cooperative bipartisanship.