With sports betting, Rhode Island roars by Connecticut, again

Put another check by another box on the Connecticut vs. Rhode Island score card, on the Rhode Island side.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, who long ago solved her state's employee pension crisis, which was not unlike the one that continues to consume Connecticut, plans to sign sports betting into law by the end of the week.

Sports betting already is in her state's budget, with a conservative first year estimate of $23 million in revenue.

Connecticut lawmakers and Gov. Dannel Malloy, like frozen deer in the headlights of the state's Indian gaming compacts, vowed to take up sports betting when it became possible with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, but didn't.

Rhode Island just flipped the switch on its new electronic tolls on trucks, an overhead array of automatic toll collectors, just beyond the Connecticut border, the first phase of a system that is projected to generate $450 million over the next 10 years, much of it from out-of-state truckers.

Tolls in Connecticut? Not yet. Maybe never, given the political paralysis in this state.

Actually, I assign much of the blame for the lack of tolls specifically on Connecticut Republicans, who generally treat it like a new tax, one they will fight at all costs.

Indeed, gubernatorial hopeful Mark Boughton, the mayor of Danbury, has promised to strap himself to the center of Interstate 95 before tolls could ever be built in Connecticut.

Wow. That's opposition for you.

I didn't hear the mayor promising to strap himself to anything when the head of his party was taking babies from their mothers in Texas.

Maybe Boughton should consider strapping himself to Gov. Raimondo's silent, money-making toll gates just beyond the Connecticut border.

Our Sen. Paul Formica of East Lyme, Republican co-chair of the Appropriations Committee, praised the fiscal year 2019 budget addendum passed last month by the General Assembly, a stopgap "without new taxes or tolls." Yet the floorboards of the ship of state continue to float perilously higher on red ink.

Senate Republican President Pro Tempore Len Fasano issued a toll rant news release this week, saying tolls would be new taxes that would stifle economic growth.

Fasano's ire was directed at Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont, who is proposing truck tolls like Gov. Raimondo's.

Lamont also suggests the tolls be used not just for revenue but for traffic congestion relief, charging more during peak hours to discourage truckers from using the state's busiest roads when working people need them to commute.

Tolls are at least shaping up to be an interesting divide in the fall elections.

Sign me up for Gov. Raimondo's $450 million over 10 years and a plan to toll away from the I-95 congestion.

Not considering sports betting is just the latest gambling-related punt by the Connecticut General Assembly, as Massachusetts prepares to suck the customers right out of Connecticut's casinos.

Not only are the two new Massachusetts casinos in the pipeline — MGM Springfield comes online later this summer — going to keep Massachusetts players home but they are going to draw in many Connecticut customers.

Indeed, Connecticut just cut the ribbon this week on a new train service from New Haven all the way to Springfield, where the new casino is just a short walk away from the station.

MGM must be calling it Connecticut's casino choo-choo. I wouldn't be surprised if they hand out casino coupons in the Connecticut stations.

Massachusetts also beat Connecticut to the legalization of marijuana bonanza, and is preparing to begin to reap the tax rewards of the first crop of recreational weed.

No doubt the windfall will include pot taxes paid by Connecticut residents who are sure to make their way across the border, some of them passing the out-of-state trucks making deposits in Rhode Island's General Fund.

In Connecticut, meanwhile, lawmakers will continue to lurch from one fiscal crisis to another, leaving lots of gambling, toll and pot tax money on the table, for the wiser neighboring states to scoop up.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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