The Yankee Institute once again is ringing an alarm bell, this time over a tolling bill crafted by the Connecticut Transportation Committee (DOT) that “contains a provision which allows a tolling proposal by the Connecticut Department of Transportation to pass without a vote by the legislature.” This is not the first time the Democrat dominated General Assembly sought to escape its constitutional obligation to vote on every dollar it raises or expends.
Under the terms of Raised Bill 7280, “the General Assembly will have only 15 days to vote on tolling recommendations from the Connecticut Department of Transportation after an informational hearing, otherwise the tolling proposal will pass and be submitted to the Federal Highway Administration,” according to the Yankee Institute.
Difficult as it may be for small “d” democrats in Connecticut to believe, this anti-democratic, insidious bill does create a petite legislature within the DOT. And it allows cowardly legislators to escape the wrath of voters by assigning to unelected officials – Connecticut’s increasingly omnipresent administrative state – a legislative authority, that of raising and expanding tax funds, that belongs constitutionally to elected senators and representatives in Connecticut’s General Assembly.
The bill does specify that “DOT shall make recommendations for tolls on I-84, I-95, I-91 and the Merritt Parkway – similar to the governor’s bill.” However, the bill stipulates that the tolling proposal “may include implementing electronic tolling systems on other limited access highways, or portions thereof, if the commissioner determines such implementation is necessary and provides the rationale for such implementation,” and the latest DOT study, according to Yankee, “called for 82 tolling gantries on all highways throughout the state to raise $1 billion in yearly revenue. Gov. Lamont has proposed tolling only the interstates and the Merritt Parkway, but reversed his campaign pledge to only toll trucks.”
Small “d” democrats should pause here and reflect. The bill assigns to the DOT commissioner, an appointed rather than elected official, a taxing, expending and legislative power that even the Democrat Speaker of the House or the Democrat President Pro Tem of the Senate or the Democrat Governor of Connecticut does not enjoy under a representative system of government in which political power is sharply divided between the separate branches of government and those wielding taxing and spending powers are subject to dismissal by a voting public.
Lamont’s reversal on the question of who shall be toll-taxed called forth a mild rebuke from one commentator – most others having fallen into a somnolent snooze -- who felt that Lamont’s flip-flop raised “some long-term worries about Lamont’s ability to lead.”
But really -- who is worried?
Leadership in a Democrat Party that has captured all the political high ground – the governor’s office, all the constitutional offices, all the U.S. Congressional Delegation offices and gatekeeper roles in both houses of the General Assembly -- may be overrated. With such commanding majorities, does it matter whether Lamont leads or is led by the nose?
In addition to legislative troops at the beck and call of Democrat political operatives, Lamont and leading Democrats may rely for political succor upon 1) unionized state workers, who in the recent past have exerted an outsized influence in Connecticut politics, 2) the inertia of many voters in the state who appear to be unresponsive to taxation lashes, 3) a loose confederation of business folk who continue to supply election funds to a legislature increasingly progressive and hostile to business interests, 4) millionaires along Connecticut’s shrinking “Gold Coast” who seek to buy their way into the affections of eat-the-rich politicians, and 5) a media that has, largely for business reasons, allied itself with the reigning power. Among Connecticut’s media, there is no enemy to the left.
One of the most progressive Democrat leaders in the General Assembly is legislation gate-keeper President Pro Tem of the Senate Martin Looney, the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of Connecticut progressives. Looney is New Haven based, a turnstile of flawed progressive ideas and rusty machine politics.
Cowardly Democrats and Republicans having emptied many lockboxes and dedicated funds of their riches over the years, Looney now has his eyes set on Municipal government treasuries. The unstated operative principle of progressives in Connecticut is that state government, acting through largely imaginary regional organizations, can manage municipal finances better than Connecticut’s towns. County government was abolished in Connecticut in 1960 in favor of municipal government. The ghost cannot be resurrected from its grave, but this has not prevented progressive governors and members of the General Assembly from proposing a governing structure for schools that looks suspiciously like county government without an elected administrative arm. The financing and administrative arm of Looney’s new regionalized school districts will be – guess who? -- Looney and his progressive cohort in the General Assembly.
Looney’s plan not only envisions the looting of town treasury pots. His is a raid on the sovereignty of municipal government itself and – perhaps more importantly – it strikes a fatal blow at the principle of subsidiarity that lies at the very root of republican government, a tenet which holds that nothing should be done by a larger and more complex organization that can be done as well by a smaller and simpler organization. Financing is the indispensable sine qua non of all political action, which is why public school parents and municipal leaders should insist that the larger organization, the state of Connecticut, should keep its hands off the means by which towns finance their educational operations. Property taxes should not become yet another lockbox plundered by a state that is incapable of balancing its own books.