Most people have a pretty good nose for sniffing out when someone is telling them the truth and when someone is lying to them. It’s hard-wired into us. We all have a gut instinct about who we can trust and who we can’t.
When you consider the broken campaign promises, misinformation and outright lies about Connecticut’s transportation system, it’s not hard to understand why Gov. Ned Lamont has struggled to pass his signature tolling plan for close to a year now. Connecticut residents have sniffed him out. They simply don’t trust his administration anymore — and for good reason.
Last week on WTIC radio’s morning show, a caller asked Lamont why he diverted $170 million in new car sales taxes from the Special Transportation Fund to the General Fund. Lamont told the caller he was wrong, saying “That’s a myth that gets perpetuated day in and day out and there’s just no truth to it.”
But it’s not a myth. The caller was absolutely right. The budget that Governor Lamont himself signed into law states: “The budget reduced the shift in sales and use tax revenues related to the sale of new motor vehicles from the General Fund to the Special Transportation Fund by $58.2 million in FY 20 and $113.4 million in FY 21.” The sum of these two numbers is the $170 million mentioned by the caller — and denied by Governor Lamont.
If the CEO of a public company made a bold-faced lie to his shareholders on a $170 million issue, he would be fired immediately. But in Connecticut politics, everyone simply looks the other way.
Democratic systems of government depend on an informed electorate. Without accurate information shared by the people we’ve elected to run our state, we can’t develop fact-based opinions on important policy issues. If we can’t trust our elected officials to tell us the truth, if they are deliberately deceiving us, the whole idea of a democratic system slips off the rails and the ride gets very bumpy.
Only by facing facts can we begin to fix Connecticut.
We have to admit that we will never be able to fully repay the $100 billion owed to the state employee pension plan. We can continue to defer payments, but that only increases our overall debt. We can pay down some debt by using a portion of the rainy-day fund. We can continue to raise taxes. But until we reform the terms and conditions of the plan and find a reasonable compromise, the debt load will drive the pension plan and ultimately our state into insolvency.
While Democrats are still raising taxes to deal with fast-growing interest payments on the crushing debt, the economy has already given up on carrying that burden.
Connecticut is now underperforming the region and the nation. Continuing down this path will hurt state workers the most. If these trends continue, there will be nothing left for one in three current state employees by the time they retire.
And it’s not just at the state level that we have a problem. Many of the defined benefit pension plans for towns and cities are woefully underfunded. At the University of Connecticut, $700 of every student’s tuition goes to covering the school’s unfunded pension liability -– money that could be used to reduce tuition to make college more affordable for Connecticut residents.
Shortly before he left office, Gov. Dannel Malloy confessed to the Hartford Courant, “Every cent of additional revenue that has come in since 2011 goes to pay pensions – teachers and state workers – and other post-employment benefits. Every single cent and more.”
Who would have believed it possible that after just 12 months of the Lamont administration, we would be looking back fondly on the Governor Malloy years? At least Malloy stood up to the facts.
Whatever reasons politicians give for more taxes or tolls, the money doesn’t produce more jobs, put more teachers in classrooms, or even build new roads. It gets diverted to pay the debt on that big, looming elephant in the room — $100 billion of unfunded liabilities. The rest of what they claim is just a smokescreen for the truth.
Rahm Emanuel once said “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” With large majorities in the General Assembly and weary Connecticut residents more than ready for change, Governor Lamont could have seized the moment and turned the state’s focus towards fixing our spiraling debt crisis. Instead, he spent a year twisting the arms of members of his own party, begging them to support tolls, while leaving the pension crisis for the next administration to deal with.
Connecticut is already the second highest taxed state in the nation on a per person basis. Our economy can’t shoulder more taxes, even if we call them user fees. We can’t afford to keep pretending that the debt crisis isn’t the real issue that cripples our state. And we can’t afford another year of hollow rhetoric and misinformation out of Hartford that tries to avoid the responsibility our government has to fix it.
Bob Stefanowski was the 2018 Republican candidate for governor of Connecticut.