Saturday, December 07, 2019

Lamont’s Toll Hostages

Themis Klarides

"Nice guy Lamont" – Malloy without the porcupine quills, some say – is now taking hostages until January, after which his temporary “trucks only” toll proposal, with the assistance of the two gatekeepers of the General Assembly, President of the Senate Martin Looney and Speaker of the House Joe Arsimowicz, will have been forced through the Democrat dominated General Assembly in a proposal packed session that, some think, may last through Christmas.

The Christmas calendar, it is hoped, will weaken the resistance of the toll opposition in the General Assembly, mostly Republicans with a scattering of Democrats holding politically shaky seats in both chambers. Republicans are stoutly opposed to tolls for all the right reasons but, in the end, it is numbers, not right reason, that will win the day, and Democrats, easily herdable, have larger numbers than Republicans.

Governor Ned Lamont and Democrat leaders in the General Assembly have pulled out all the gags and plastic cuff-ties for the season. Municipalities are being held hostage until the opposition relents and, under pressure from the towns, bloodily assent to tolls. State grants to towns – long delayed money the towns need for such incidentals as summer road repaving, fall tree-clearing and winter snow removal – have been withheld until such time as the state produces what CTMirror calls “a long-term transportation financing plan, something that legislative leaders say is unlikely until a special session in January.”

There are three pots of state money routinely released to towns that are being held up until a bonding plan is produced. The long delayed state payment to The Town Aid Road (TAR) grant is the most immediately distressing to Municipalities. Half of the $60 million per year in TAR funding is usually delivered in July, the remaining half in January. In the absence of timely funding, the towns are forced to raid other town funds or reduce operations.

Lamont received a smattering of applause when he recently “shared his optimism,” according to a report in CTMirror, “with municipal leaders that the transportation-bonding standoff was nearing a conclusion.” Malloy told a Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) forum at Foxwoods Resorts Casino “That means in the next two and a half weeks, we’re going to have a Bond Commission meeting that frees up all the LoCIP [Local Capital Improvement Program] and paving money that you need, you can expect and you can count upon, and we’re going to get that done.”

Lamont’s reassuring pledge was “clarified the following day” when Lamont appended a caveat: “Administration officials said the funding would be released only after legislators adopt a long-term transportation financing plan…,” according to the CTMirror report.

Following the caveat, the CCM did not reconvene to withdraw its applause, but CCM Executive Director Joe DeLong did issue a milquetoast's reproof. “He thinks most people understood the governor was not pledging unconditional release of delayed local aid in December -- regardless of whether a transportation plan is adopted,” CTMirror reported. “But DeLong also agreed that the inconsistent nature of state aid in recent years is taking its own toll on local roads.

“’All of this deferred road maintenance actually increases the cost,’ he said. ‘So we’re actually spending more dollars not doing this the right way.’”

Ah well, as the French say, "On ne fait pas d'omelette sans casser des oeufs,” roughly translated: “You can’t make a tolling omelet without breaking a few municipal eggs.”

CTMirror notes, courageously, “this is the second time in three years communities have faced long delays to receive state aid. A marathon battle between Democratic and Republican legislators and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in 2017 delayed adoption of a new state budget for more than four months into the new fiscal year.”

Former Governor Lowell Weicker deployed similar forceful tactics to push his income tax through a resistant legislature: He vetoed three non-income tax balanced budgets and closed state parks.

The Lamont-Looney-Arsimowicz bullying tactics did not go over well with some Republicans who argue that a responsible legislature should be permitted to freely vote up or down on measures that are not clouded with threats or reprisals -- or hostage taking.

“This is a failure of leadership on the part of the governor,” said Republican leader in the House Themis Klarides. The calendar says it is December and the administration is still holding hostage much-needed funds that towns and cities rely on to maintain and plow their roads. This is petty politics over an ill-conceived plan to put tolls on our highways… The snow is now flying and our towns and cities are wondering when the State of Connecticut is going to make good on its commitment to them. The longer this goes on the more dire the situation is going to get. And over what? A toll initiative that the public has said it does not want.’’

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