Photo: Susan Haigh / Associated Press
Gov. Ned Lamont is threatening to implement Republicans’ debt-financed transportation proposal, “Prioritize Progress,” if General Assembly Democrats don’t approve his tolls-funded transportation initiative. So the team captain tells his squad that, if they don’t follow his lead, he’ll defect to the opposing team? Strange.
On June 26th, The CT Mirror online newspaper reported that Lamont is threatening to reduce non-transportation borrowing and increase transportation borrowing, if the General Assembly doesn’t approve tolls.
To all Republicans and many Democrats in the Assembly and to the legions of Connecticut residents opposed to tolls, that’s a “make-my-day” threat, as in Clint Eastwood’s famous words in the movie “Dirty Harry.”
The Mirror reported that Lamont would “consider shifting more borrowing capacity away from non-transportation initiatives to support Connecticut’s highways, bridges and rails. Lamont said ‘We cannot afford to do a lot of these other items if we put all that money into transportation.’”
Why are so many people opposed to tolls? Because anyone who’s followed the tolls saga and who knows anything about the state’s finances understands that toll receipts would never be used for transportation. While toll receipts themselves would be deposited in the Special Transportation Fund (per federal law), an equal amount of other funds that are supposed to go to the STF, would not be deposited.
How do we know that other funds would be diverted from the STF? Because that’s exactly what Lamont is doing right now. He is diverting into the General Fund the car sales tax revenue that his Democrat predecessor, Dannel P. Malloy, dedicated to the STF. He promises not to divert these funds after the two years of the current budget — in 2022 and beyond. Yeah, sure. See “Lamont’s Roads All Lead to Tolls,” June 27, 2019, in this newspaper.
Lamont seems manifestly oblivious to the contradiction between what he’s promising and what he is doing, between the transportation plan he thinks he is advocating and the plan he is accidentally endorsing.
In his apparent befuddlement, not only is Lamont endorsing the GOP’s plan for transportation, but also he is endorsing the very concept embodied in the name of the GOP plan: If we have a transportation crisis, as everyone agrees we do, then transportation should be prioritized. Borrowing for “other items” should be reduced drastically, and bonding for highways and rails should be increased dramatically.
Moreover, if we have a current transportation crisis, we should address it immediately with bonding right now, rather than waiting five years for tolls receipts to materialize (and, in the meantime, using up the state’s remaining borrowing capacity to fund spending on “other items”).
The Hartford Courant just reported that Democrat leaders in the Assembly are scheduling a legislative session on Monday, July 22nd, to approve an annual package of bonded debt to be issued to pay for municipal construction projects (aka “other items”), something the Assembly should have passed during the regular session, but didn’t.
The Courant quotes Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, D-New Haven, as saying that this year “money in the bond package would likely be set aside ‘in large pots’ for cities and towns in various categories ‘rather than cluttering up the bill with a lot of specific earmarks.’”
One has to wonder why the change from “specific earmarks” to “large pots.” The likely reason is to enable Lamont and Democrat leaders to “conduct business” in secret, namely to threaten to withhold approval of projects in districts of Democrats opposed to tolls, and to carry out the threat if they don’t capitulate. If projects were earmarked, and, then, it would be easy to compare a legislator’s vote on tolls to the fate of earmarked projects in his or her district, leading inevitably to pointed questioning. Obviously, Lamont, Looney, House Speaker Joseph Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, and other Democrat leaders don’t want to face such questions.
Assembly Democrats opposed to tolls should join Republicans in rejecting the “large-pots” approach in order to escape the squeeze play that Lamont, Looney and Aresimowicz are planning to corral their votes for Lamont’s ill-considered tolls plan.
The overall picture offers delicious irony. Lamont is threatening to implement GOP policy — “Prioritize Progress” — in order to force some Democrats to vote for Democrat policy. It is even more paradoxical that, in issuing the threat, Lamont is articulating the very reasons that the GOP plan is superior to his own tolls plan, namely that the GOP plan genuinely prioritizes transportation over “other items” and that it offers an immediate solution rather than one five years away.
Red Jahncke is president of The Townsend Group Intl., a Greenwich-based consulting group.