Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The No Way Busway

Governor Dannel Malloy’s notoriously expensive busway proposition – on completion, the rapid transit project from New Britain to Hartford spanning 9.4 miles will cost more than $573 million, about $952 per inch – has engaged the interest of a few penny pinching legislators, among them state Senator Joe Markley and Rep. Whit Bette, both of whom have co-signed a letter written to House Speaker John Boehner urging Mr. Boehner to reject $460 million in federal funding for Malloy’s folly.

The busway is a prime example of politicians leveraging federal dollars: The federal government announces the availability of funds for a state project, say $460 million to build a ziggurat in New Britain. The governor is asked to pony up a modest $113 million, at a time when the state has accumulated crippling deficits and is bleeding jobs. Turning the proposition over in his mind, the governor, always alert to charges that he has fiddled while his state burns, decides to swallow the proposition, as they say, hook, line and sinker.

A good deal, right? We get $460 million from the feds on an expenditure of $113 million.  Who could be so impertinent to object? So what, really, if the busway is a waste of money. It is a waste of other people’s money -- federal money. What has that got to do with us? If the Feds want to throw money out their windows in the direction of Connecticut, should we not grab it?

Now, along come critics of the deal. And in this case, the critics are not merely members of the chattering class whose business it is to blow hot and cold in columns that may concern the state. They are two state legislators. How to handle this delicate situation?

Best to ignore them until the embers burst into flame.

The Hartford New Britain busway is a political streetcar named desire. It is visible proof of an arcane proposition that in times of recession and national humiliation salvation must trickle down from beneficent congressmen in Washington, to be gratefully received by local politicians who in the past have not escaped the notice of influential writers:

Will Rogers:  "This country has come to feel the same when congress is in session as when a baby gets hold of a hammer…It is awful hard to get people interested in corruption unless they can get some of it."

H. L. Mencken:  "If a politician found he had cannibals among his constituents, he would promise them missionaries for dinner."

Mark Twain: "There is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress… We have the best congress money can buy."

William F. Buckley, Jr.: "No one since the Garden of Eden -- which the serpent forsook in order to run for higher office -- has imputed to politicians great purity of motive." 

Thomas Sowell: "Congressman Frank and Senator Dodd wanted the government to push financial institutions to lend to people they would not lend to otherwise, because of the risk of default. ... The idea that politicians can assess risks better than people who have spent their whole careers assessing risks should have been so obviously absurd that no one would take it seriously."

G. K. Chesterton: "It is terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged."

Judge Gideon J. Tucker, 1866: "No man's life, liberty or property is safe while the Legislature is in session."

Joe Markley: ““I am not concerned about leaving federal funds on the table. Federal or state, it’s all our money, and we shouldn’t waste it. Projects like this shouldn’t even be entertained until we get our fiscal house in order. I find it ironic that we are in the midst of a $6.2 billion deficit and the Governor is asking the legislature to spend more money we don’t have.”

All of the writers cited above were or are Americans, with the exception of Mr. Chesterton, here quoted simply because the sentiment he expresses, humorously but forcefully, is as American as apple pie. The point in choosing the remarks cited above, almost at random, is to show that that caustic commentary on the foibles of politicians is itself as American as apple pie.

So then, why have we seen so little rip roaring commentary in connection with Mr. Malloy’s redundant busway, an outrageously expensive people carrier that would be prohibitively expensive had we not swallowed the tempting fable that the cost of the project will be assumed by altruistic strangers?

Mr. Betts noted in the letter he signed jointly with Mr. Markley, “This is a boondoggle and a waste of taxpayer dollars. In the end the annual cost to the state is expected to be $11 million, ticket sales estimates are $4 million leaving a $7 million hole. I am against spending state money for a transportation project that is expected to incur losses. ”

And Mr. Betts is not here tickling a funny bone. One wonders how many legislators in the Democratic dominated General Assembly are more than willing to finance a project “that is expected to incur losses?”

The answer is: Nearly all of them. That answer would not surprise any of the political commentators cited above. On September 12, Mr. Markley will be the guest speaker addressing attendees at a Talk of Connecticut Dinner With Dan (Lovallo) at the Stonewell Restaurant in Farmington. The subject of Mr. Markley’s remarks will be the busway to and from nowhere, and Mr. Markley is known to have a charming sense of humor. The cost of the dinner, at $25, will be considerably less than the cost of the busway boondoggle.

Those who wish to attend the event may do so by calling for reservations at (860) 677-8855
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