Finding some courage in Hartford?

Governor Lamont says voting for highway tolls to raise money for renovating Connecticut's transportation system would require state legislators "to show a little courage." True, but not true enough.

For far more courage would be required to give transportation the priority the governor says it should have but really won't give it himself.

Courage would divert to transportation all the recent increases in compensation for state and municipal government employees. Courage would reduce or at least freeze educational spending amid declining student enrollment and divert that money — again, spent mostly to increase employee compensation — to transportation as well. Courage would gain transportation money by curtailing state employee pensions.

Courage would tell billionaires Ray and Barbara Dalio that the $100 million gift they want the state to spend on education would do a lot more good fixing bridges. The state could name one for the Dalios.

Courage would gain transportation money by canceling the Public Utility Regulatory Authority's expansion, a scheme to reward the former Democratic state chairman with a $200,000 patronage job.

Courage would gain transportation money by telling the University of Connecticut's Board of Trustees that the $700,000 it is spending on a third presidential mansion will be deducted from the university's state appropriation.

And so on.

Connecticut's history since enactment of the state income tax in 1991 has shown that raising taxes, while seeming hard at first, is always the easiest thing in the end. Of course tolls are taxes too.

The governor and General Assembly already have raised taxes this year, extending the sales tax to exempt items and, in the name of awarding paid family leave benefits to certain workers, raising the state income tax on them by a half percent. (State employees and teachers are exempt from the tax increase.)

What really requires courage, and what has yet to be done in state government, is controlling spending and auditing it for results. For that in turn would require confronting certain special interests, even as the governing party is mainly a collection of them.

* * *

Five years ago, anticipating that former U.S. Sen. and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a Democrat, would become the next president, the University of Connecticut Foundation sought to buy influence with her on UConn's behalf and so paid her $250,000 to give a mediocre talk to students.

Last year, the Hartford Courant discovered this week, the Southern Connecticut State University Foundation paid $124,000 for a speech by former Vice President Joe Biden, also a Democrat and now a presidential candidate himself.

The foundations of public universities are largely slush funds, mechanisms by which the universities raise and spend money outside ordinary appropriations and controls even as they increase tuition. The grotesque honorariums awarded by UConn and Southern to likely Democratic presidential candidates emphasize the politics of Connecticut's public higher education.

No Republican or independent conservative is likely ever to be offered money to speak at a public university in the state. Why would such a speaker even ask to be paid when just managing to express politically incorrect views at a public university would be a triumph?

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.



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