CHRIS POWELL: Tolls aren't really for transit

Published on Sunday, 19 January 2020 19:50


With Democratic state senators scrambling to assemble 18 votes to support imposing highway tolls on big trucks, their majority leader, Norwalk Sen. Bob Duff, declared at a forum last weekend that it’s “a big myth” that state government has “raided” its transportation fund.”

Maybe Duff denies any raiding because when the current state budget, enacted by the Democrats last year, diverted auto sales tax revenue from the transportation fund, the taxes hadn’t been collected yet. A law dedicating auto sales tax revenue to the fund was only about to take effect. Emboldened by their increased majorities in the General Assembly, the Democrats and Governor Lamont reclaimed the auto sales tax revenue for the General Fund, thus creating what they said was a need for tolls.

So there is more to transportation fund raiding than Duff lets on.

Indeed, while recent toll proposals have stressed maintaining and improving “roads and bridges,” former Republican Sen. Len Suzio wrote the other day in the Meriden Record-Journal that only a minority of the money in the transportation fund is spent that way.

Instead, Suzio wrote, most transportation fund money goes for payroll and pension expenses for state Transportation Department employees and operation of mass-transit systems, like the Metro-North commuter railroad, The mass-transit systems, Suzio wrote, are used by a tiny minority of state residents even as roads and bridges are the transportation systems used by the great majority and most transportation fund revenue comes from fuel taxes paid by drivers.

However the issue is resolved, it remains that tolls are being sought not for transportation at all but to avoid economizing elsewhere in government. Tolls are being sought not because transportation is so important but because those in charge of Connecticut think that everything else in state government, especially employee compensation, is more important.

BLUMENTHAL’S FAKE SURVEY: President Trump may be the biggest demagogue in the country but the other day he got some competition from Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal.

By e-mail the senator asked his supporters to take a survey “to let me know what you think about the chaos that continues to unfold in Washington.” He added, “Your input is incredibly valuable as I set my strategy for the weeks ahead.”

Blumenthal’s survey contained four questions.

 “Do you believe that President Trump should be held accountable for illegally abusing the office of the presidency to solicit a foreign political bribe and obstruct justice?”

 “President Trump’s military actions in Iran have shown no clear strategy, only reckless and dangerous bravado. On a scale of 1 to 5, how worried are you about President Trump leading our country into a needless war with Iran?”

 “Is it important to you to support Democrats who are fighting back against Trump and the ring of criminality that surrounds his administration?”

Of course these questions were not really part of a survey at all and the responses they meant to elicit were not “incredibly valuable input” for Blumenthal.

No, the questions aimed only to induce people to respond favorably to the senator’s fourth question: Would they donate to a national Democratic campaign committee?

So why couldn’t the senator take the question marks off his charges against Trump and frankly ask for money on that basis? Surely even the senator’s supporters could discern that he didn’t want their opinion at all, just their money.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.

Posted in New Britain Herald, Columns on Sunday, 19 January 2020 19:50. Updated: Sunday, 19 January 2020 19:53.