Lamont threats resemble GOP plan

Governor Ned Lamont is threatening to implement Republicans’ debt-financed transportation proposal, “Prioritize Progress,” if General Assembly Democrats don’t approve his tolls-funded transportation initiative. So the team captain tells his squad that if they don’t follow his lead, he’ll defect to the opposing team? Strange.

The CT Mirror reported June 26 that Lamont is threatening to reduce non-transportation borrowing and increase transportation borrowing, if the General Assembly doesn’t approve tolls.

To all Republicans and many Democrats in the Assembly and to the legions of Connecticut residents opposed to tolls, that’s a “make-my-day” threat, as in Clint Eastwood’s famous words in the movie "Dirty Harry."

The Mirror reported that Lamont would “consider shifting more borrowing capacity away from non-transportation initiatives to support Connecticut’s highways, bridges and rails. Lamont said, ‘We cannot afford to do a lot of these other items if we put all that money into transportation.’”

Why are so many people opposed to tolls? Because anyone who’s followed the tolls saga and who knows anything about the state’s finances understands that toll receipts would never be used for transportation. While toll receipts themselves would be deposited in the Special Transportation Fund (per federal law), an equal amount of other funds that are supposed to go to the STF would not be deposited.

That’s exactly what Lamont is doing right now. He is diverting into the General Fund the car sales tax revenue that his Democrat predecessor, Dannel P. Malloy, dedicated to the STF. He promises not to divert these funds after the two years of the current budget – in 2022 and beyond. Yeah, sure.

Lamont seems manifestly oblivious to the contradiction between what he’s promising and what he is doing, between the transportation plan he thinks he is advocating and the plan he is accidently endorsing.

Not only is Lamont endorsing the GOP’s plan for transportation, but the very concept embodied in its name: if we have a transportation crisis, as everyone agrees we do, then transportation should be prioritized. Borrowing for other items should be reduced drastically, and bonding for highways and rails should be increased dramatically.

Moreover, we should address it immediately with bonding right now, rather than waiting five years for tolls receipts to materialize (and, in the meantime, using up the state’s remaining borrowing capacity to fund spending on “other items”).

The Hartford Courant reported that Democrat leaders in the Assembly are scheduling a legislative session on July 22 to approve an annual package of bonded debt to be issued to pay for municipal construction projects (aka “other items”), something the Assembly should have passed during the regular session, but didn’t.

Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney (D-New Haven) is quoted as saying that this year “money in the bond package would likely be set aside ‘in large pots’ for cities and towns in various categories ‘rather than cluttering up the bill with a lot of specific earmarks.’”

The likely reason is to enable Lamont and Democrat leaders to conduct business in secret, namely to threaten to withhold approval of projects in districts of Democrats opposed to tolls, and to carry out the threat if they don’t capitulate. If projects were earmarked, it would be easy to compare a legislator’s vote on tolls to the fate of earmarked projects in his or her district, leading inevitably to pointed questioning. Obviously, Lamont, Looney, House Speaker Joseph Aresimowicz (D-Hamden) and other Democrat leaders don’t want to face such questions.

Assembly Democrats opposed to tolls should join Republicans in rejecting the “large-pots” approach in order to escape the squeeze play planned to corral their votes for Lamont’s ill-considered tolls plan.

The overall picture offers delicious irony. Lamont is threatening to implement GOP policy in order to force some Democrats to vote for Democrat policy.  

Red Jahncke (Twitter: @RedJahncke) is president of The Townsend Group Intl. LLC, a Connecticut business consulting firm.

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