With Connecticut’s long-term plan for infrastructure maintenance unclear, businesses will look elsewhere to invest.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey might have folded a few years ago, but don’t worry Connecticut, there’s a new circus in town. It’s called CT2030. With all of the changes the transportation plan has undergone since Gov. Ned Lamont first unveiled it last November, the only reasonable take away is that the “2030” part of it meant 2,030 different versions.
While the governor’s actions from the past few months certainly resemble “The Greatest Show on Earth,” unfortunately, this is no laughing matter. Said bluntly, Connecticut’s failure to adopt tolls statewide is a serious blow to our economic future.
Talk to anyone who studies it for a living – and I did; more on that in a moment – and they will tell you that infrastructure is the key to unlocking economic growth. Cities and states that have top quality infrastructure will be rewarded handsomely in the form of business investment. It’s the magic formula: companies bring jobs, jobs create income, and income leads to spending.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that several of the states that rank as being the most business friendly are the same ones that get high marks for infrastructure. So, while Texas spends $4.75 billion annually to maintain its roadways, Connecticut continues to dance and juggle its way around a viable and sustainable plan to fund infrastructure over the long-term.
Gov. Lamont gave us a glimmer of hope with his first iteration of CT2030, which called for the implementation of electronic tolls, yet his flip-flopping act that followed would make even the most renowned trapeze artist jealous. It’s almost as if the administration was unprepared for how politically unpopular tolls were going to be, and decided to retreat from the fight, rather than stand its ground.
Let’s go back to Texas for a minute. I spoke with David Perkins, President and CEO of the Texas Aggregates and Concrete Association (TACA), to find out how the Lone Star State has been able to get Texans to support infrastructure funding (83 percent of voters approved the passage of Proposition 7 in 2015, which authorized a constitutional amendment for transportation funding) and to get his thoughts on tolling.
In the mid-2000s, the effort began in earnest to push for tolling in Texas because of the realization that current funding mechanisms just weren’t going to cut it any longer. And as expected, the people revolted. However, to build support, the Texas legislation did something much differently than the Lamont administration. Rather than disappear, it stepped up to the plate to come up with two different funding mechanisms in addition to tolls (Proposition 1 and Proposition 7), which helped ease some of the resentment over tolling.
“From a policy standpoint, tolling needs to be an option [in infrastructure funding],” Perkins said. “It needs to be a component. It’s a big tool in the toolbox with other tools available to leverage. But there has been pushback, and there continue to be some growing pains over tolls especially as the funds from Proposition 1 and Proposition 7 come into play. It has to be a combination of tools to make this work effectively in order for the general public to get on board.”
Even with such strong opposition over tolls, the Texas legislature found a way to make the public more receptive to them. Unlike the Lamont administration, Texas refused to let politics stand in the way of passing resolutions to fund infrastructure. So, it’s no coincidence that as Texas continues to increase the amount it spends on its highways and roads, its labor force follows suit, growing at the equivalent of nearly 1,000 new jobs a day in 2019. (For comparison, Connecticut added a total of just 3,600 jobs all of last year!)
While the Lamont administration figures out the next ball to juggle on infrastructure, maybe it ought to take a look at what others states are doing, especially as 5G rolls out across the nation. There’s just no clowning around about this: the ways things currently stand, we are in no position to compete for business investment and tolls are a critical funding source to help shore up Connecticut’s economic future.
Matthew Chudoba is a Norwalk-based strategic communications professional.