COMMENTARY: With state budget, the end did not justify the means

As someone who has battled two decades for more spending on transportation, you’d think I would be happy with the state’s new biennial budget. But when you drill down into the details, there’s reason for concern.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy promised a downpayment on his $100-billion transportation dreams. And he did get one-half of 1% of the state sales tax repurposed for that — but it only pays down the state Department of Transportation’s enormous debt service.

Jim Cameron

Jim Cameron

That must have come as a surprise to his recently appointed Transportation Funding Task Force, which is just getting started. Why have a task force when you’re playing a shell game with transportation funds?

Not kept was the governor’s promise for a “lock box” on the Special Transportation Fund.

Nor did he keep his promise to not raise taxes, having the chutzpah to blame the legislature for that when it was very clear that the budget’s new taxes were negotiated by his team with his blessing.

As the governor signs the new budget into law, he owns those hikes and broken promises.

 

Tax increases to impact many

There will be tax hikes on the middle class, sin taxes (cigarettes and Keno — a tax on ignorance), and corporations. You know it’s bad when GE, Aetna and Travelers all scream in pain, though they’ll doubtless be paid off to stay put just as UBS was paid $20 million years ago.

Any budget that narrowly passes the House 73-70 and the Senate 19-17 in an “emergency vote” without debate bears closer scrutiny, especially in a state with one party so clearly in control.

Coverage by cable channel CT-N of the marathon two-day final session showed lawmakers who were deliberately sleep deprived, kept at their desks all night debating measure after measure until they were exhausted.

Sleep deprivation is a great interrogation technique for terrorists but no way to pass new laws.

 

Absent legislators

I am told that Democrats who did not toe the party line on this budget and threatened to vote “no” were told to “go home” rather than cast a negative ballot.

Indeed, in the final House tally, eight lawmakers did not vote, some because they were said to be “sick,” others because they were “absent on other business.”

What legislator misses the final ballot on a two-year, $40-billion budget that passes by a single vote?

So divisive was the final debate, the governor didn’t even have the guts to speak to lawmakers after the budget session ended, a long-standing tradition.

 

Tyranny of one-party rule

I have respect for the office of governor, but also believe strongly in open, transparent government “of the people, by the people.” Beware the tyranny of any one party when majority power is so brazenly wielded and the public is ignored.

Malloy did deliver on his promise to start funding long-neglected transportation projects. I just disagree with the way he did it.

Keep your eyes on the prize but embrace the process. Whatever good came out of this year’s budget process, those ends did not justify the means.

 

Jim Cameron is founder of the Commuter Action Group, but the opinions expressed in this column are only his own. Reach him at [email protected]

 

 

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