Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Senate President Martin Looney Finds Tolls Unpalatable

Martin Looney

There is no indication that any of the various toll plans offered during the past year were ever palatable to a majority of Connecticut voters. During the second week of November, Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney at long last took the hint. “I think we need to find something that is broadly palatable in the General Assembly and also to the public,” he said.

The shelving of tolls – for now – does not mean that some other toll plan may not be advanced after the upcoming elections by a Democrat dominated General Assembly always hungry for new revenue streams. A new revenue source would relieve the General Assembly, responsible for all getting and spending in Connecticut, of the necessity, ever more apparent, of cutting spending, the alternative to raising taxes.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff noted, “I think we all want to move forward on a [transportation improvement] plan, we just have got to figure out how to fund it.”

One way not to fund public transportation is by intercepting funds designated for public transportation and dumping them into the Connecticut General Fund.

Duff, Looney and Speaker of the State House Joe Aresimowitz have yet to accept responsibility for having averted their eyes as the state’s easily unlocked Transportation lock-box was pilfered. They were all tellingly silent when Democrat candidate for Governor Ned Lamont grounded his campaign in toll receipts that were to be collected only from large trucks. They were silent also when Lamont’s modest tax metastasized into a plan to litter the state with toll gantries and impose a commuter tax on their wives, children and grandmothers. And, of course, whenever the conversation turns to permanent, long-term spending cuts, everyone heads for the restrooms.

The problem is spending. The state has tripled the amount of revenue it has received since the institution of the income tax in 1991 – and still we are producing multi-billion dollar deficits.  Indeed, the present deficit is far larger than the deficit in 1991 that triggered the income tax. In both cases – that of the income tax and Lamont’s shifting toll tax iterations – The general public was sold a bill of goods. Then Governor Lowell Weicker gave assurances during his campaign that there would be no income tax, reversing himself immediately after he was sworn in. Lamont did the same, assuring the public that voted him into office that commuters would escape the toll gantries he planned to plaster all over the state. And then, before you could say “there’s a sucker born every minute,” Lamont unfurled his real flag. Nary was a peep heard from the Democrat leaders of the General Assembly Democrat hegemon until “No Tolls CT” arrived on the scene and stole the political soap box.

By my count, there is only one notable political commentator in Connecticut who seems willing to place spending cuts at the top of his to-do list, and that is Chris Powell of the Journal Inquirer, a persuasive, contrarian journalist who, for the last 28 years following the imposition of the income tax, has been atop Connecticut’s spending bronco pulling on the reins and yelling stop. Everyone else has preserved a most telling silence.

Here is Powell on run-away spending: “Freezing compensation for state and municipal government employees for a few years might cover most of the additional $500 million annually needed for the governor's transportation program. Reducing pension benefits for those employees and eliminating defined-benefit pensions for new hires might supply the rest. State aid to municipal education -- that is, aid to teacher salaries -– could be put on a diet too, with the savings diverted to transportation, since decades of spending more on education have produced no improvement. Billions more might be saved and diverted to transportation if state welfare and urban policies were also audited and spending eliminated where results are poor.”

Everyone knows what the problem is, everyone knows what the solution to the problem is -- cut spending, permanently and long term. But the government of Connecticut through reckless spending has set us on a dead sea. Our past successes – continual tax increases – have now become our deadliest enemies. And nothing moves. Those who should be moving the ship of state are as immobile as the dead sea in which they now find themselves.

What are the prospects of true spending reform? If the past is prelude to the future, real reform seems out of reach. And why? Tolls are “unpalatable” for now, we are told by tax hungry legislators. But later? People forget, they become weary. And if the ruling Democrat Party, now stuffed to the gills with progressives, were ever to take up the cause of spending reform, “what reasons,” Powell asks, “would anyone in Connecticut have for being a Democrat? Whence would the party's soldiers draw their livelihood? For state government finance is mainly public financing of political campaigns -- those of the majority party.”

Connecticut is desperately in need of a fresh breeze, a new perspective, a cleansing reform. Whether these good things will come our way will depend ultimately on the moral vigor and good sense of good men and women in the General Assembly and in the media who courageously put the welfare of their state above their own narrow political prospects.

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