Your solution is taxes; mine is tolls

Toni Boucher and her former Republican colleagues are pushing a “solution” to Connecticut’s transportation funding woes with their go to strategy of borrowing more money.  Excessive borrowing used to be anathema to the Republican Party.  What happened?  Do Republicans, like Boucher, think they can hide the real cost of more borrowing?  Connecticut taxpayers know better. They will be paying increased taxes for decades to come with the Republican’s debt plan.

Let’s cut through the myths being touted by Ms. Boucher in her recent op-eds:

Boucher: “They only have to look at the ‘Prioritize Progress’ plan offered to them that does not include tolls or taxes. Instead, it puts transportation’s most essential projects at the top of the state’s bonding authority list and eliminates borrowing for pet projects to buy votes.”

The Connecticut GOP refuses to list which projects it would not fund.  So which projects, Ms Boucher, do you believe are “pet projects to buy votes?”  Keep in mind that Republicans will have to slash hundreds of millions of dollars in borrowing every year in order to provide their promised $700 million in annual borrowing for transportation infrastructure.

A 2018 version of “Prioritize Progress” let the cat out of the bag: Connecticut Republicans proposed to punish our public universities by slashing hundreds of millions of dollars of funding for them.  What other “pet projects” would suffer?  Municipal aid, small business investment, brownfield remediation, affordable housing and the list goes on.

Boucher: “What is the real reason for the monumental effort expended by Democrats to install tolls?”

Boucher knows the answer: Our transportation infrastructure ranks among the oldest, most deteriorated in the nation.  Our special transportation fund is close to insolvency, despite receiving more than a third of a billion dollars a year in sales tax revenues that were supposed to go for education and other purposes.  Without a major infusion of new revenues, we will soon be unable to fund needed repairs of our bridges and roads, let alone improve them.

Boucher: ” Taxpayers cannot continue to fund platinum healthcare and pension plans that no one in the private sector or municipal union members enjoy.”

The claim that state workers and public school teachers receive “platinum healthcare and pension plans” is utterly false.  The median pension of state workers is barely $38,000.  Connecticut’s pension benefits are below the national average.  The Urban Institute determined that Connecticut’s state teacher pension benefits rate an “F,” making our state one of just five states receiving a failing grade.

Boucher:  “Connecticut receives more federal funds than states with tolls, it could lose this funding with tolls.”

That’s a lie.  Back in 2015, a report produced by the engineering consulting company CDM Smith determined that there was zero chance of Connecticut either losing its federal highway funds, or being required to pay back the funds it had received.  Yet despite that report’s findings, and others, Boucher and her fellow Republicans continue to roll out that scare tactic and spread falsehoods.

Boucher:  “CT DOT administration costs are up to nine times the national average per mile, overhead expenses are outstripping revenues by 5 to 1.”

That claim is based on an absurd report put out by the right-wing Reason Foundation, a report that has been roundly debunked.

Boucher: “70 percent of tolls will be paid by Connecticut residents —a $500 million tax increase”

False.  Most estimates have Lamont’s plan raising 40 percent of tolls from out-of-state drivers. Using Boucher’s estimated revenue from tolls of $800 million, $320 million will come from out of state drivers every year. Plus, calling this a “tax” is disingenuous. Tolls are a user fee paid only by those who use our roads and are higher for heavy users, like 18-wheelers.

What Boucher fails to point out is that under her plan, Connecticut residents will be forced to pay 100 percent of the bill, plus interest, to repair and improve our transportation infrastructure.  What she doesn’t tell you is that she’s proposing drastic cuts in support for everything else government does in order to borrow for tolls.

What she also doesn’t tell you is that every other state on the East Coast, indeed every state east of the Mississippi except Vermont, Tennessee, and Alabama, collects tolls on their highways.  That includes states with Republican and Democratic governors and legislatures.

And, most importantly, she doesn’t tell you is that rising debt service puts extraordinary pressure on lawmakers to raise taxes or risk financial insolvency.  We are at the point where Connecticut cannot simply grow its way out of excessive borrowing. That’s why the “debt diet,” along with tolls, is so critical.

Here’s the bottom line: Adopt the GOP plan and borrow $700 million, with Connecticut taxpayers paying the entire cost, while decimating support for virtually everything else the state does. Or collect tolls, 40 percent of which would be paid by out-of-state cars and trucks.

Pay for everything ourselves, while slamming our towns and universities with massive cuts? Or collect tolls and get out-of-state residents to pay 40 percent to rebuild our transportation infrastructure?

Cut through the obfuscation, and the choice is simple.

Gail Berritt is a Westport attorney and Sean Goldrick is a Greenwich investment professional.

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