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Nothing to lose but Connecticut itself

Despite the constant posturing by its elected officials, Connecticut has no "crisis" in transportation infrastructure. The transportation problem has nothing to do with transportation. The transportation problem — state government's problem generally — is only that state government's personnel costs can't be controlled, since government long ago lost the necessary courage. 

This was demonstrated last week when the leader of the Republican minority in the state House of Representatives, Themis Klarides of Derby, proposed removing personnel costs from state government's Special Transportation Fund. Reporting Klarides' idea, the Waterbury Republican-American's Paul Hughes noted that nearly 30 percent of the $1.7 billion allocated to the transportation fund by the state budget this year is spent not on infrastructure but on the ordinary operating costs of the transportation and motor vehicle departments and the boating division of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection — salaries, benefits, and pensions. 

This has been going on for a long time. While the Special Transportation Fund was established in 1984 to cover infrastructure costs, within three years state government was incurring budget deficits and began spending the fund on transportation personnel as well. Neglecting infrastructure was a lot easier than controlling personnel costs, since the employees involved were members of the unions that controlled and still control the state's majority party. 

Because Republicans and a few conservative Democrats commanded a majority on the budget last year, an attempt was made to bolster the transportation fund. Last year's budget placed in the fund the revenue from sales taxes on motor vehicles. But this year an enlarged Democratic majority in the General Assembly and a new Democratic governor diverted the motor vehicle sales tax revenue from the transportation fund back to the General Fund, thereby creating the "crisis" its perpetrators now decry. 

But Klarides and other Republican legislators deserve little credit for acknowledging this budget shell game. For just shifting money from the General Fund to the transportation fund, as the Republicans propose, is useless, since it fails to explain how the General Fund revenue is to be replaced or done without. That is, the Republicans do not specify what non-transportation spending must be cut and priorities changed to protect the transportation fund. 

Cut spending? Change priorities? Nobody can do that, neither Democrats nor Republicans, since Republicans are just as scared of the unions and other special interests as the Democrats are. The Republicans won't even seek audits of the most expensive state government policies — education, welfare, urban, government employee labor — no matter how obvious the failure of those policies becomes. 

The Republicans have lost the last three elections for governor — not by much, but three elections they should have won — and haven't won a majority in the state Senate in 23 years and in the state House in 33 years. They got close in the 2016 legislative election but last year were smashed back to their normal irrelevant numbers. 

Republicans have not elected anyone to Congress from Connecticut in 13 years, though not long ago half the delegation was Republican. 

So Republicans have nothing to lose by telling the horrible truth about state government's desperate circumstances and its subservience to special interests. For by itself it will mean nothing even if the Republicans win an election on account of disgust with the Democrats. Connecticut can be saved only by reversing its direction. 

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



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