2020 is the time for legislature to make big policy decisions
In the legislative session now underway, Gov. Ned Lamont and his fellow Democrats, who control solid majorities in the House and Senate, need to demonstrate they can pass major pieces of legislation that have been under discussion for years. Otherwise, they run the risk of being labeled a do-nothing majority led by an ineffective governor.
Instead of running scared, the Democrats should be building a record to run on.
Rather than exerting their political muscle, Democrats have sidestepped making the tough decisions necessary to meet the state’s transportation needs, provide a model for online sports betting in the state, and decide how, or whether, to proceed on marijuana legalization.
More thumb twiddling would be both bad politics and bad policy.
The toll plan the Democrats have arrived at is not the best, but it appears the best that can win enough votes for passage.
Preferably, Connecticut would have joined most of the states that surround it and enacted a tolling system to collect fees from all vehicles traveling its highways. That would end the practice of imposing the cost of transportation infrastructure largely on state taxpayers, instead assessing tolls on all the millions of drivers that pass through the state.
Not surprisingly, polls show most state drivers don’t want tolls. Why would they? And years of poor fiscal management has bred mistrust about how the money would be spent, adding to the opposition. Republicans have seen a political opening and, in lockstep, have campaigned against tolls.
The result has been a watered-down proposal to assess tolls only on tractor-trailer rigs, using 12 gantries at highway bridges. The legality of truck-only tolling is in question and faces a challenge in Rhode Island. At $172 million in estimated revenue, it is several magnitudes less than all-vehicle tolling would raise, meaning more borrowing.
But, with their planned operation starting in 2023, the truck tolls would feed the State Transportation Fund. And Lamont contends he has the votes.
Get it done.
Sen. Cathy Osten, a Democrat from Sprague whose 18th District includes the towns of Ledyard and Montville — homes to the reservations hosting the Foxwoods Resort and Mohegan Sun tribal casinos — has introduced an ambitious plan to address a host of gaming issues. We don’t like all of it, but it is designed to attract broad support and could provide the vehicle necessary to find compromise.
Among its proposals, the Osten bill would grant the tribes the exclusive rights to offer online gaming and sports wagering, as well as sports wagering at their casinos. It would allow the Connecticut Lottery Corp. to offer some online games, assuaging its disappointment for not getting a piece of the sports wagering pie.
It would allow a tribally owned company to operate a satellite level gaming facility in Bridgeport, a move targeted, it would appear, to get support from the powerful legislative delegation representing that part of the state. It would move forward with the already authorized casino planned in East Windsor, to be jointly operated by the tribes. It has been held up by litigation filed by MGM Resorts, which opened a casino in Springfield, Mass. in 2018.
We have questioned the wisdom and need of a Bridgeport casino, but recognize the political considerations. And handing off sports wagering and that Bridgeport casino to the tribes, without opening the process to competition, would invite legal challenges. Osten contends the compact between the two tribes and the state, governing casino gambling, could be amended to allow such a tribal-exclusive deal. Maybe.
At the very least, the many playing pieces Osten’s bill puts on the table gives Lamont an opening to seek deals. She is trying to force some movement. The challenge will be working with the Lamont administration to get a deal done and legislation passed.
We repeat our call for the legislature to form a diverse, ad hoc committee to consider the pros and cons of legalizing and taxing the sale of marijuana for recreational use. The committee could provide recommendations as to how marijuana sales could be best handled, and use policed, if the legislature chooses to go in that direction.
Such groundwork would provide the legislature the tools necessary to consider the legalization question after the 2020 election.
The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.
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