A time for opportunity
We’re on to another new year with many opportunities to create a new path of growth and prosperity for our dear state of Connecticut. The legislative short session begins on Wednesday, Feb. 5, and finishes on Wednesday, May 6. As we head to Hartford, here are some things that are at the forefront of my mind:
Tolls - yes, but not yet
The implementation of tolls remains a priority for Gov. Lamont. Since his campaign last year, he has continued to put forward every possible proposal, from promising to toll “trucks only,” to tolling all vehicles, to tolling only some roads and/or bridges, and now back again to tolling “trucks only.” There is no question that maintaining our transportation infrastructure is critically important. People need to be able to commute to work safely and in good time, whether by train, bus or car. We can all agree on that.
Where opinions differ, however, is in regards to how we should fund our transportation needs. I support the concept of tolls because I feel that they provide a logical way to collect fees on a service people use daily. Many of our surrounding states have road/bridge tolls that we pay to use. Why not have the same opportunities to collect revenue in our state?
Yet just as we teach our children, if someone else does something, that doesn’t mean we that should follow suit; it might not be right for every situation.
Here in Connecticut, it is projected that only 40% of all tolling fees would be paid by out-of-state residents. We already pay more for road infrastructure repair than residents of any other state in the country — and not by just a little, but by a lot. Why should we now get saddled with 60% of tolls fees on top of what we already pay? Doesn’t it make sense to instead find out what is driving our high transportation costs before committing to charging our state’s hardworking residents more fees?
Furthermore, while tolls revenue would purportedly be used to support infrastructure repair, our state government is notorious for spending our tax dollars elsewhere.
A Special Transportation Fund (STF), built on taxes and fees that are supposed to be used exclusively for transportation and road repair, was established in 1983. The STF established the gas tax — one of the highest in the nation — in 1985 to cover lost revenue when tolling plazas were removed. This revenue is “protected” by a constitutional amendment passed in 2018, which states that any funds going into the STF must be used for transportation. We refer to it as the “transportation lockbox.” The problem with this lockbox, however, is that it does not designate what funds must go into it. The funding stream may change at the whim of the governor and General Assembly. This is neither transparent nor predictable, leading to millions and millions of dollars designated for the STF being swept into the General Fund to balance our faulty state budget every year.
So, again, though I support efforts to rebuild our state infrastructure, and the concept of tolls in general, I am a “no” vote right now on any tolling proposal in Connecticut because basic math and common sense tell me that until we are more efficient and transparent with the funding sources already “dedicated” to the STF, we should not be burdening the residents of Connecticut with another cost of living.
Shoring up Connecticut
Having long advocated for changing the direction of our state’s fiscal path, I found Dan Haar’s column in the Jan. 5 Norwalk Hour article titled, “Connecticut: The Lost Decade,” both compelling and sobering. He states that 2010-2020 was a “lost decade by any measure.”
“Jobs in Connecticut grew by 4% in the decade where Massachusetts and the U.S. gained 15% each,” he writes. “If Connecticut had gained jobs at the same rate as the nation, we would have added another 179,000 jobs; enough to support as many households in New Haven, Hartford, Fairfield and Greenwich combined.”
He shares another eye-opening statistic: Massachusetts had a 40% jump in median home prices. U.S. stats indicate a 44% jump. Yet Connecticut was up just 8%, with Fairfield County faring even worse.
We know that we are one of the most heavily taxed states in the country; challenged with a large underfunded pension liability, the richest state union pension and benefits, a governing party addicted to spending; and yet to read about it alongside such statistics is a major wake-up call.
Let us remember that we are also a state with well-educated, compassionate and vibrant residents, rich cultural offerings, reputable schools, a beautiful shoreline, highly-valued historic landscapes, and easy access to New York City, Boston and all of New England. There are so many positives about Connecticut.
I join Mr. Haar in calling for a solid dose of an attitude change and embracing of the political middle. It is not that hard to cut spending where the benefits don’t merit the expense. We simply must, and can, do better for the people in our state. Great ideas and suggestions are out there, and you can read more about Mr.Haar’s in his Norwalk Hour article starting with “Take the Middle Path on Policy.” It is reminiscent of the good work of the bi-partisan Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth Report published in March 2018. This report gave a realistic assessment of where are as a state; including all the positives and liabilities, and what to do in order to turn it around.
We just need to have the courage to find common ground and move forward for the future viability of Connecticut. I look forward to furthering this work again this session.
In closing, I’d love to hear what’s on your mind. Please come by for one of my Coffee and Conversations event on Feb, 1! I will be at NEAT Coffee, located in the 20 Grove Street plaza, between 9 and 10 a.m., and at the Rowayton Market, located at 157 Rowayton Avenue, between 11 and 12 p.m.