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What Tolls Mean And Why They Are Not Dead

Lamont addressing General Assembly
Governor Ned Lamont threw up his hands in a gesture of surrender and took a pause in his ceaseless efforts to outrig Connecticut with a new revenue source – tolls – so that his comrades in the General Assembly would not have to apply themselves diligently during the next decade to balancing chronic deficits through spending cuts. A new revenue source would buy progressives in the legislature about ten years of business-as-usual slothfulness. It is their real hedge against spending reductions.

“I think it’s time,” Lamont said at a hastily called news conference, “to take a pause” and -- he did not say -- to resume our tireless efforts next year, after the November 2020 elections have been put to bed.  The specter always hanging over the struggle for and against tolls always has been the upcoming elections, when all the members of Connecticut’s General Assembly will come face to face with the voter’s wrath. The prime directive in state politics is to get elected and stay elected, without which all ideas, hopes, dreams, and the vain strutting of one’s hour upon the political stage, are evanescent puffs of smoke.

“Gov. drops tolls plan” ran the front page, above the fold headline in a Hartford paper, underscored with a sub-headline, “Democratic Senate leaders are still open to a vote on controversial legislation.” The word “controversial” in that headline is a massive understatement. The best laid toll plans of Lamont and leading Democrats in the General Assembly were torn asunder by a volcanic eruption of disgust and dismay that Speaker of the House Joe Arsimowicz and President of the Senate Martin Looney seem convinced will disappear within the following year. Their experts no doubt have counseled them that the lifespan of political memories in Connecticut is exceedingly short; by November, all the Sturm und Drang over tolls will have been dumped onto the ash heap of ancient history.

No one will recall these bitter fighting words from Lamont, “If these guys [Lamont’s Democrat co-conspirators who had been giving him assurances that there were enough votes in the General Assembly to pass his re-worked toll plan] aren’t willing to vote and step up, I’m going to solve this problem. Right now, we’re going to go back to the way we’ve done it for years in this state when we kept kicking the can down the road."

By the expression “kicking the can down the road” Lamont meant to indicate that the Democrat dominated legislature and preceding governors had not, unlike him, attacked transportation issues,  not to mention massively dislocative state workers’ pension obligations, with energy and dispatch. We are back to borrowing money to pay for transportation and road repair because – Lamont did not say – his Democrat comrades in the General Assembly had in the past raided dedicated funds, transportation funds among them, in order to move from laughably insecure “lockboxes” to the General Slush Fund monies necessary to patch massive holes in budget appropriations and expenditures caused by inordinate spending.

The real political division in Connecticut is not, and perhaps never has been, between Democrats and Republicans. The dissevering line runs between progressive politicians who, victims of their own past successes, are not discomforted by ever-increasing taxes and spending – which go together, like the proverbial horse and carriage – and those who are beginning to suspect that the usual political bromides only sink the state further in a mire of political corruption and anti-democratic but successful political verbiage that makes no sense when examined closely. In the post income tax period, Connecticut entered into a perilous and fatally repetitious Groundhog Day, and those who might have opened the eyes of the public, reporters and commentators, were fast asleep.

Tolls are, in fact, an escape hatch for politicians who want to deceive their real employers, voters, into swallowing the fiction that less money for the masses and more for the politicians will usher in a progressive Eden, whereas inordinate revenue infusions only relieve politicians of the brutal necessity for spending cuts.    

The general perception among all groups opposed to tolls and other revenue boosters appears to be: not one cent more in net revenue. For the benefit of the real state, not Connecticut’s administrative apparatus, the General Assembly must show in an indisputable and public manner that it intends to inaugurate real, lasting, spending reforms. The General Assembly is making a serious political mistake if it assumes that all the ruckus of the past year surrounding tolls is only about tolls. It is about the General Assembly and present and past governors who have closed their eyes and ears to the havoc they have caused and the wounds and injuries they have visited upon our beloved state.


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