I hope you’ve been following CT-N to watch our dysfunctional legislature in recent weeks as they struggle to fill a $900 million budget gap. Not only could they not get a new budget together before adjourning (only to be summoned back this week for a special session), but the legislative logjam left several important measures in limbo. Among them, the long debated “lock box” for special transportation funding.
As I wrote weeks ago, none of Gov. Dannel Malloy’s plans to spend $100 billion to rebuild and expand our transportation systems over the next 30 years can go anywhere without an agreement to safeguard those funds from misappropriation by putting them in an untouchable “lock box.”
Because the legislature couldn’t pass such a bill or even put it on the ballot as a potential constitutional amendment referendum, that puts the entire Malloy plan on hold. Without a lockbox nobody trusts Hartford with money raised by tolls or taxes — nor should they.
The lockbox idea is not new. In fact, it was Republicans who suggested it years ago. But when Malloy appropriated the idea as his own, GOP lawmakers saw the governor’s version as more sieve than safe, and they held up a vote.
Folks, if lawmakers can’t agree on an annual budget, let alone a way to keep transportation funding secure, how can we trust them with $100 billion in new money?
The Dept. of Transportation’s track-record on private-public partnerships for transit-oriented development also gives one pause. For example, consider the Fairfield Metro train station where a private developer went belly-up, leaving CDOT to finish the job, sort of: the beautiful new station they built still has no waiting room.
Or consider the ongoing saga of the Stamford rail station garage. It’s been almost three years since CDOT tapped a private developer to demolish the old garage, replace it with a high-rise office / condo / hotel and build new commuter parking lots within a quarter mile from the station. In three years, nothing has been done because there is still no signed contract.
Yet, that project is wrapped in such secrecy that nobody understands the delay. Or why the CDOT is even still negotiating with this laggard “developer of choice.” It couldn’t be because the developer contributed $165,000 to the Malloy campaign that he’s being given so much time, could it? Nah, that would never happen.
So here we are, fellow Nutmeggers. Lawmakers deadlocked. A $900 million budget deficit to fill this year and another $2 billion hole in years ahead. State workers are being laid-off. State funding to towns for education is being cut (meaning local taxes rise). Billionaires are bailing (a third of our taxes are paid by the top 1 percent). And no prospects for a lock-box let alone more funding for transportation. Yup, just the same old stuff as ever.
No wonder they call us “the land of steady habits.”
Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien Representative Town Meeting. The opinions expressed in this column are only his own.