Gov. Ned Lamont’s budget is chock-full of contradictions and nonsensical fantasies, none more dramatic than his transportation agenda and his tolls proposal.
Lamont says the Special Transportation Fund (STF) is going broke. The STF, which finances all transportation projects and operations, has a balance of about $325 million right now. So what does Lamont do? He eliminates $1.2 billion of STF funding over the next five years. Then, he insists that we need tolls as “additional revenue.”
If you think that sounds ridiculous, read the section in Lamont’s budget presentation about the $1.2 billion in question, namely car sales tax revenue. On page 8, he presents a graph of the STF assuming car sales tax revenue are handled according to the transportation funding policies he inherited from his predecessor, Dannel Malloy. The graph shows that, at the end of fiscal year 2024, the STF has a balance of $463 million.
Next, Lamont proposes to divert this revenue stream to other purposes, and, then, he observes “STF will become insolvent by FY 2022.” Yes, and, by Fiscal Year 2024, it will be deep in the red, to the tune of $724 million. Then, the document intones “Governor Lamont refuses to have a conversation about the STF that doesn’t include a real solution …” With that, Lamont jumps into a discussion of tolls.
You may wonder how anyone — I mean, anyone — could take this seriously. Well, Lamont’s fellow Democrats (almost everyone in Hartford is a Democrat) aren’t going to point out that the Democratic emperor is naked. But how to explain this embarrassingly obvious flim-flam?
Well, there’s a notion that car sales taxes are sales taxes, and sales taxes do not belong in the STF as per Malloy’s policies, but rather alongside other sales taxes in the general fund, which finances everything other than transportation. Now that we are in the Lamont era, the Democrats consider this revenue to be car sales taxes, rather than car sales taxes belonging with other CAR taxes and fees in the STF.
So, Lamont’s first step in forging “a real solution” is to make sure that dollars are properly labeled and classified, no matter that the labeling pushes the STF into insolvency.
Actually, the sooner the STF is projected to go bankrupt the better, since it serves to scare everyone into the belief that we need tolls … RIGHT NOW!
Moreover, while the STF is not actually going bankrupt, the general fund is! The general fund is where the looming $3.7 billion two-year deficit resides. So Lamont is pulling dollars from anywhere and everywhere to fill that hole — including from the STF.
Car sales taxes aren’t the only STF revenue stream with which he’s playing around. He says this about taxes on gasoline, the STF’s biggest revenue source: “The need for additional funding will not be accomplished by raising the regressive gas taxes …”
OK, the gas tax won’t fund all the needed maintenance and improvements in our transportation system. So what does Lamont propose but “a graduated reduction in the gas tax.” In other words, he wants to reduce revenue because raising it won’t meet the need for more of it? We’ve entered the Twilight Zone.
Lamont is making things worse to justify extreme measures to make them better. That’s the way he and the Democrats want to run the state.
In late 2008, Rahm Emanuel, President-Elect Barack Obama’s chief of staff, said famously “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” meaning government can do things in the midst of a crisis that it can’t in normal times. As Emanuel explained, that was how Obama and national Democrats were planning to exploit the Great Recession to enact momentous policy changes.
Lamont and Connecticut Democrats are taking this strategy one step further. They aren’t just exploiting crises, they are manufacturing them to get what they want. As always, they want to expand government, for which they need ever more revenue.
The public sector unions cheer them on, because, when government grows, so too do the ranks of unionized public sector employees, and so too do the streams of membership dues flowing into union coffers.
Red Jahncke is president of Townsend Group Intl, LLC, a Greenwich-based consulting firm.
Red Jahncke is a nationally recognized columnist, who writes about politics and policy. His columns appear in numerous national publications, such as The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, USA Today, The Hill, Issues & Insights and National Review as well as many Connecticut newspapers.