Now that highway tolls seem to have been dismissed for this yearâ€™s session of the General Assembly, the Yankee Institute for Public Policy has provided good suggestions for finding transportation infrastructure money elsewhere.
Yankeeâ€™s suggestions show that Governor Lamont and Democratic legislative leaders really donâ€™t believe what they say - that transportation infrastructure is urgent. For if they did believe it, they wouldnâ€™t be planning to spend the money Yankee proposes to move to transportation:
-- The stateâ€™s economic development grants to businesses - corporate welfare - and the filmmaking tax credit program cost state government about $257 million each year while accomplishing little. Indeed, a recent study by North Carolina State University reached the same conclusion on a national level.
-- State government should reduce its subsidies for passenger railroad service and raise fares by $1, generating $44 million per year that could be used to leverage federal funds for improving rail lines. Most commuters on the Metro-North line in prosperous Fairfield County could afford the extra $2 per round trip. (Greenwichâ€™s Democratic state senator, Alexandra Kasser, complained that the governorâ€™s toll proposal didnâ€™t go far enough, maybe because comprehensive tolling would have people who live outside Fairfield County and drive to work subsidizing Kasserâ€™s rail-commuting constituents.)
-- State government should eliminate â€śproject labor agreementsâ€ť and â€śprevailing wageâ€ť requirements for government construction projects. These policies are payoffs to construction unions and increase costs by 10 to 20 percent. They serve the unions, not the public.
That the governor and the Democratic majority in the General Assembly wonâ€™t redirect this spending to transportation shows they consider it more important. Indeed, the state budget is full of things less important to the public than transportation but more important to politically active special interests.
With its suggestions for economizing in favor of transportation, the Yankee Institute also has set an example that should be followed by everyone seeking more money from state or municipal government. For just calling attention to what is purported to be a public need isnâ€™t very helpful, since public needs are infinite and everybody knows that money always can be obtained by raising taxes. What is helpful is identifying expenditures that are not as important as the purportedly unmet public needs.
If everyone pursuing public funds followed the Yankee Instituteâ€™s example, essentially becoming an auditor of state and municipal government, budget debates might be far more illuminating and demand far more conscientiousness from the governor and legislators, who seldom judge anything in state government for results.
For example, Connecticut Voices for Children could be more useful by analyzing the top 5,000 state and municipal employee salaries, starting with the $300,000 salary planned for the executive director of the stateâ€™s new educational slush fund, the â€śPartnership for Connecticut.â€ť Advocates for the mentally handicapped could report on why state financial aid to municipal education goes up even as student enrollment and performance go down. Community colleges, stewing about their consolidation, could analyze the deficits of the University of Connecticutâ€™s health center and athletic department.
Lots of money could be saved in state government if people were ever motivated enough to save it.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.