Yesterday, the legislature voted to implement a “transportation lock box” to presumably protect funding to repair and replace our state’s crumbling roads, rails and bridges that we travel daily. While this sounds like a noble idea, we of the Southeastern Connecticut delegation – and many of our colleagues – saw the serious flaws in this bill that compelled us to vote against it.

The myth being perpetuated by Gov. Dannel Malloy and legislative Democrats is that money deposited in this fund will be safe from the account “sweeps,” fiscal gimmicks, and non-transportation related withdrawals that have been historically made to balance bloated and unsustainable state budgets.  This claim couldn’t be further from reality, and here’s why.

The bill passed yesterday was so full of holes, it cannot possibly hold water or, more importantly, the transportation funds assigned to the Special Transportation Fund (STF).  In fact, the motivation for this idea came from the legislature’s previous attempts to secure infrastructure funding in the STF, which is designed to set aside money solely for transportation expenses. However, the Democrats have consistently raided the STF to balance budgets.  By creating a new account and labeling it with a strong word like “lock,” legislative Democrats once again created the illusion of activity and protection.

To prove this point, within hours of this “lock box” vote, the legislature voted on a deficit mitigation plan to balance the current budget, which is estimated to be between $350 and $370 million out of balance only a few months into the fiscal year.  That vote diverted $35.2 million from the STF into the General Fund, illustrating the lack of discipline consistent with past legislatures.

On the same day that the majority party professed fiscal responsibility and protection of much-needed transportation infrastructure funds, they denied millions of dollars from being deposited into that account.

Additionally, this account is only as strong as the legislature itself. The Republican caucus — strong supporters of the “lock box” concept –- saw the glaring problems with the plan and proposed an amendment to make the fund stronger. The Republican plan would allow citizens to challenge asset removals through legal action and provide the teeth that a law of this nature needs to be successful.

Unfortunately, that amendment died on a party-line vote. Once again, legislative Democrats refused to take serious and enforceable steps to set money aside to repair roads, rails and bridges. Instead, they pushed through a “lock box” with no lock, perpetuating the myth that they are working to rebuild our state.

We further objected to the lack of transparency with respect to where the money comes from, and how it is spent. This bill failed to define the source of revenue coming in, allows diversions before the money even gets to the fund, and even allows the legislature to continue adding expenditures. That means when state budgets get tough, the legislature can simply vote to raid the “lock box” again.  Effectively, this allows the legislature to shift money from one pocket to the other as a way to balance a budget without having to actually reduce state spending.

If we are truly serious about fixing Connecticut’s failing infrastructure, we must take a strong stand on principle and stop obfuscating the truth under the guise of action. We need to stop playing games and create an enforceable transportation lock box. The bill before the legislature did not do so.

The bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 100 to 40. We voted no.

Rep. John Scott represents the 40th district of Groton and Ledyard. Rep. Mike France represents the 42nd district of Ledyard, Preston and Montville. Rep. Kathleen McCarty the 38th district of Waterford and Montville. Rep. Aundré Bumgardner the 41st district of Groton and New London. Rep. Doug Dubitsky the 47th district of Canterbury, Chaplin, Franklin, Hampton, Lebanon, Lisbon, Norwich, Scotland and Sprague.

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