As a vision, perhaps we should call it CT 20/200

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On an unseasonably warm Sunday, on Jan. 12, I managed to find a room even more full of hot air than anywhere else.  That room was the site of the town hall meeting with Gov. Lamont hosted by State Sen. Will Haskell and State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, at which tales of tolls were spun like records at a David Solomon club party.  A full recap of the town hall’s ridiculousness would be beyond the scope of an op-ed, but some highlights are certainly in order.

First, I learned that Sen. Haskell does not believe that a toll is a tax, but rather a “user fee.”  No, I am not joking – he genuinely seemed to believe that is a meaningful distinction.  Perhaps Sen. Haskell has yet to read Shakespeare.  For just as “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” so a tax by any other name would cost as much.  Sen. Haskell and his colleagues could call the income tax “Bob” if they chose; it still takes money out of our paychecks.  Tolls are no different.

Second, and perhaps more shocking, every elected official on the dais (Gov. Lamont, Sens. Haskell, Bob Duff, and Carlo Leone, and Reps. Steinberg and Lucy Dathan) objected strenuously to the assertion that the state government has ever raided the Special Transportation Fund.  Sen. Duff and Rep. Steinberg stated flatly that such an assertion was untrue – “fake news,” if you will.  Sen. Leone somewhat more helpfully explained that the legislature had not taken money out of the STF, but had instead taken money that was supposed to be deposited in the STF and simply decided not to deposit it.  Hence, no raiding.  Sen. Haskell went a step further and offered an analogy – a charitable person who pledges to donate $100 per month to NPR, but who, in a month when expenses were running high, contributed only $50.  Surely, he said, one would not accuse our benevolent NPR fan of stealing money from NPR.

I also like analogies and stories, and so I will offer Sen. Haskell and his colleagues a more helpful example.  When Sen. Haskell was elected, the state promised him a salary of $28,000 per year, along with $5,500 per year for unspecified expenses.  However, times are tough here in Connecticut, so imagine the state elected instead to pay him $10,000 per year in salary and $1,000 per year for expenses.  I think everyone would agree that paying Sen. Haskell $11,000 instead of the $33,500 promised would be the equivalent of taking $22,500 from him.  And that is the difference.  The STF is not an NPR pledge drive; it is one of the aspects of the state budget most essential to the economic vitality of Connecticut.  That none of Lamont, Duff, Haskell, Leone, Dathan, or Steinberg understand the difference should be concerning to every state resident, regardless of political stripe.

But this line of reasoning brings me to my third and most important point.  The Democrat contingent on stage made one thing unequivocally clear – literally everything else in the Connecticut budget is more important to them than fixing the state’s crumbling transportation infrastructure.  How else to explain the logic of their STF “non-raid”?  That they consistently refused to transfer to the STF money that was meant to be contributed to the STF necessarily means that they could find absolutely nothing else in the budget less important than transportation infrastructure.  This should be shocking to everyone, and should make everyone listen that much more critically to the arguments being offered by proponents of tolls.

Like former President Obama, these Democrats love straw man arguments.  In fact, I haven’t seen such a continuous display of straw men as I saw at the town hall since I last watched The Wizard of Oz.  Listening to Lamont, Duff, Haskell, Leone, Dathan, and Steinberg go on and on about the Mianus bridge collapse, the number of bridges and roads in a state of disrepair, the Moody’s report highlighting Connecticut transportation infrastructure as an economic inhibitor, and other matters, one could be forgiven for thinking that a large contingent of state residents was pushing back against making improvements to transportation infrastructure.  In fact, no one is making that argument.  Everyone agrees that transportation infrastructure needs to be improved.  But a large swath of Connecticut rightly wonders why the only way to accomplish that is to introduce tolls.

The answer, of course, is that tolls are not necessary.  What is necessary is responsible government officials willing to make difficult choices about funding priorities.  What the town hall made abundantly clear is that no one on that stage is such an official.  Accordingly, if you find yourself currently represented by Duff, Haskell, Leone, Dathan, or Steinberg, I would encourage you to explore your options come November.


Irina Comer

Candidate for State Representative, District 142 (Norwalk, New Canaan)


Elizabeth Gibbs January 19, 2020 at 2:29 pm

There is no justifiable reason, despite all the arguments here, why Connecticut taxpayers should be the sole support of our highway system. The system needs funding and tolls are a reasonable way to fund it as is the case in almost all other states where we pay to drive on their roads. Highway tolls for large trucks makes total sense.

Peter Torrano January 19, 2020 at 8:09 pm

Excellent letter. Very good job of exposing the double speak of the democrats.

Elizabeth Gibbs, I think a little more explanation is required regarding your comments. If it were only heavy trucks and cars from other states being billed through the new tax/fee/donation or whatever else you care to call it, then I think the party in power would be more able to sell this poison pill to Connecticut residents. But it’s not. So the Connecticut taxpayers who are supporting their roads and bridges through the already onerous taxes foisted on them will be additionally burdened by forcing them to pay tolls. So maybe that’s the justifiable reason you seem not to recognize.

And just to be clear, I no longer reside in Connecticut. I live in South Carolina. We have no tolls. Many states that are well run do not. But of course, that’s only states that are well run.

Marcos January 19, 2020 at 9:41 pm

Agreed on all..if they want tolls they can have them, just rescind the gas tax. I’m not paying 2 taxes so they can use the money not what it was stated for. Duff and Haskell must go

Will January 20, 2020 at 8:02 am

I am a proponent for tolls, but for out-of-state drivers *only*.
CT taxpayers are already paying through the nose on real estate, etc.
When I’m on the highway (Merritt Parkway particularly), it seems like 3 out of every 5 vehicles I see are out-of-state. Given that surrounding states charge us for using their highways in many cases, we should at least be doing the same. The technology is there–we can use cameras to capture out-of-state plates and mail them a bill if they don’t want to use something like EZ-Pass.
Imposing more and greater taxes on a shrinking tax base of Connecticut residents is not a sustainable long-term plan, as we’ve already been seeing businesses and residents leaving the state because of them, but at the same time, we see our roads getting more and more use from out-of-staters, and it’s time to make them pay for upkeep and development of those same roads.

Alma Lyons January 20, 2020 at 8:42 am

I am all for tolls. I was born in CT when tolls were all we knew. Every weekend I travel to South Jersey. GUESS WHAT GUYS…I PAY TOLLS! For those of you who don’t want to pay tolls, MOVE or stay home. I had no choice, I had to pay the tolls but I will say the Garden State Parkway and Jersey Turnpike are some of the Best roads in the Country. What I don’t agree with is the amount of tolls our governor is suggesting. Put them back where they were.

Things happen and it’s called Life! Norwalk had low taxes when I moved here from Stamford. A year later property taxes went up due to the assessment and I had to pay them or move. Well, 20 years later I’m still here. Reconsider tolls. Don’t give drivers a free ride.on our highways!

John ONeill January 20, 2020 at 9:53 am

It’s incredible to me that Duff et al think we are complete idiots. If we need reinforcement of why we don’t trust politicians in Hartford, this diversion/stealing nuance debate sure hits the spot. As a wise Richard Blumenthal (By the way, when will we be honoring him for his heroism in Vietnam War) once said, “Falsus in Uno, Falsus in Omnibus”.
@Elizabeth — Please do your research on Dems shifting our money over the past 15 years — If after research you come to the same conclusion let’s talk again.

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