While I continue to believe a user fee is the best way to address the poor condition of roads and bridges in Connecticut (rated a “C-” by the American Society of Civil Engineers), here is a novel idea for those against tolls/increases in the gas tax: crowdfunding.
Albeit my knowledge of the topic is rather limited (I am familiar with crowdfunding as it relates to real estate given my profession), I do think it would make some sense to at least broach the topic for conversation.
It’s abundantly clear from the feedback I received as a result of the last commentary I wrote that Republicans (and many Democrats) are steadfastly against tolls unless pension reform happens. (Most Nutmeggers know that there’s a higher probability of the UConn football team making a BCS bowl game again before this happens). Let’s face it, no matter the outcome of those conversations, Republicans will accuse Democrats of not going far enough, while Democrats will chide conservatives as not being realistic. Meanwhile, our infrastructure will continue to deteriorate.
Here’s a brief history of how crowdfunding came into existence: Roughly 135 years ago, in 1885, the French gifted the Statue of Liberty to the United States of America. What the statue didn’t come with, however, was the granite pedestal it sits on today. Low and behold, with local, state and federal governments arguing over who would cover the cost of the construction (sound familiar?), newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer stepped up to the plate.
Pulitzer turned to the crowd, asking readers of the New York World for donations to fund the construction of the pedestal. In just five months, the campaign raised over $100,000 from more than 160,000 people (the majority of donations were less than $1). As a token of gratitude, all contributors received their names published in the paper.
How is this story relevant to improving the infrastructure in Connecticut? It’s simple. (It’s also possible that Mr. Wonderful might tell me to take this idea behind the barn and shoot it). The Connecticut Department of Labor issued its September 2019 jobs report recently, which reported nearly 1.7 million nonfarm jobs (a year-over-year increase of 0.5%). Imagine if roughly 60% of those 1.7 million people contributed $100 to a crowdfunding campaign dedicated to improving the infrastructure of Connecticut? That would raise approximately $100 million in badly needed funds.
The majority of those who commute have probably said on more than one occasion (tongue-in-cheek) that they would give an arm and a leg to avoid the daily frustration of sitting in stop-and-go traffic (I commuted from Hamden to Norwalk for three-and-a-half years, so believe me, I questioned how much I really needed my right hand (I’m a lefty)). Imagine if all it costs you was $100 (or whatever you’re willing to pay for less congestion; maybe less, maybe more)? It certainly would be much more affordable than the medical bills you would accrue from having your arm/leg amputated.
Time and time again, we read heartwarming stories about fundraising campaigns on crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe (the top 10 fundraisers of 2018 on GoFundMe collectively raised $58 million). Certainly incredible. The point is not to compare Connecticut’s infrastructure needs to a heartbreaking tragedy like the one the families of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team endured, but rather, to show how willing people are to contribute to something that affects them—whether directly or indirectly.
Why not see if Connecticut can have its Pulitzer moment by turning to the crowd for its infrastructure needs? There are certainly many pros to this approach: no tolls, no tax increases, voluntary contributions at an amount of your choosing, and the funds would be protected from misuse or being rerouted to balance the budget (like so many times in the past). He or she who organizes the crowdfunding campaign could work with the government to properly identify and bid out transportation projects in dire need of repair. Heck, maybe one of you lucky contributors would even have a road or bridge named after you. Libertarians would love it as it puts the power back in the hands of the people.
While it all sounds too good to be true (it probably is), what I like least of all about this approach is that it lets New Yorkers and Bay Staters off the hook. They would continue to get by scot-free on the Boston-to-New York parkway while we shoulder the burden. Secondly, it is a pure gimmick. A crowdfunding campaign isn’t a sustainable source of revenue, nor would it come close to raising the projected $800 million annually that tolls would.
Is crowdfunding our way out of this mess realistic? Highly unlikely, but there’s no harm in at least presenting the idea to the crowd itself. Have at it Hartford. And if by some chance this does happen, you can count on my $100 (you can name the bridge after someone else though).
Matthew Chudoba is a strategic communications professional with over six years of agency and internal
experience. He is currently is an account director at a Norwalk-based communications firm, where he is
on the company’s real estate team.