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Posts published in “Connecticut Newspapers”

Truck-Toll Revenue Would Be a Mirage: Truckers Would Dodge the Gantries

There Are Access Points on I-95 About Every Mile. Trucks Could Dodge a Gantry by "Going Local" for Only a Mile.

There’s a new game in Connecticut. It’s called dodge-a-gantry. Right now, it is only a virtual game being played on Google Maps.

Governor Lamont's latest toll plan – he’s had many – is to toll only tractor-trailer trucks at just 12 highway bridges in the state. So what are truckers doing? They are getting ready to game Lamont’s proposed system. They are researching the best toll evasion routes, i.e. the best local roads to use to bypass the intended highway gantry locations.

The governor and his advisers have failed to take into account a unique and fundamental obstacle to imposing tolls in Connecticut.

Almost all existing toll roads in other states are limited-access highways. Vehicles travel for several miles between entry-exit access points. To exit and re-enter these highways in order to evade tolls is an onerous proposition. Actually, in most instances, it is impossible, because every entry-exit access point has a gantry or toll booth, where vehicles are logged in and out and charged for the distance they have traveled.

In contrast, Connecticut’s highways are uniquely open-access with short distances between entry-exit points.

In neighboring Massachusetts, the Mass Pike (I-90) has 24 entry-exit points (and 24 toll locations) over the 141 miles from West Stockbridge to downtown Boston. Here in Connecticut, I-95 has 91 access points over the 105 miles from Greenwich to Stonington.

Erecting tolls at all 91 would be absurd and exorbitantly expensive. Alternatively, gantries spanning across traffic on I-95 would invite trucks to jump off just before a gantry and re-enter a few miles further along just past the gantry.

The proposed high toll rates for trucks would provide motivation to truckers to evade the gantries.

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An after-action report: Trump, Soleimani and Khameni

Donald Trump has been excoriated by critics for ordering the killing of the number one terrorist in the world, Qassem Soleimani. If he wasn’t number one, who was?

If Iran isn’t the very definition of an enemy and a threat to world peace, what nation is? Iran is a nation whose national slogan is “Death to America” and whose greatest aspiration is to wipe another nation off the map.

The president’s critics engage in some truly tortuous mental gymnastics to level their charges.

Take U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat from Connecticut. On New Year’s Eve, as Soleimani’s henchmen were ransacking parts of the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad, he tweeted: “Trump has rendered America impotent in the Middle East.

Simultaneously, Iran’s Supreme Leader – and Top Tweeter, Ayatollah Khamenei challenged the president with a taunting tweet: “You can’t do anything.”

Surprise: dead wrong.

Both Murphy and the Ayatollah responded, the former challenging the president’s authority to kill “the second most powerful person in Iran,” and Khameni with an ineffectual rocket attack.

Here’s one citizen’s after-action report.

Execution: If ever there were a surgical strike, this was it. Perfect execution. Two bad guys and their aides were eliminated without any collateral damage.

Authorization / Consultation: Despite delegitimizing semantics terming the killing an “assassination” and repositioning Soleimani as an anodyne national leader or military commander, he was the leader of the Quds Force, which was designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Dept long ago in 2007.

Critics want proof that Soleimani was planning an imminent attack, as if the Quds Force leader wasn’t planning attacks every single day of his life.

Windows of opportunity for surgical strikes open rarely and close quickly. Delay for significant congressional involvement might have jeopardized the opportunity. Moreover, POTUS operates in a White House that leaks like a sieve. Anonymous op-ed writers rove the hallways alongside whistleblowers, who communicate constantly and coordinate closely with anti-Trump Democrats and media reporters, who lionize these moles.

Justification: If Soleimani’s decades of mischief and his terrorist designation weren’t enough, Soleimani had just orchestrated an attack on an American embassy, sovereign territory under international law.

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CT Hospital Tax Exploits Medicaid to Finance Irresponsible Spending

Hartford is exploiting an anomaly in the Medicaid program to extract billions from the U.S. Treasury, not to finance health care, but rather to finance otherwise unaffordable state spending, primarily state employee health care and retirement benefits.

This anomaly, or “shell game” (the term used in a U.S. Senate committee report) operates through the hospital tax. While all states impose this tax, no state imposes nearly as high a hospital tax rate. That’s what former Office of Policy and Management Director Ben Barnes told me in late 2017. He said Connecticut’s hospital tax scheme requires explicit federal approval, because the roughly 9% rate exceeds a 6% threshold that no other state exceeds.

The Medicaid program is a federal-state partnership providing medical care to poor citizens, with the federal government reimbursing states for about one-half to two-thirds of allowable fees and costs that hospitals and others charge Medicaid patients for medical care.  Under Obamacare, Connecticut and other states expanded Medicaid in return for much higher federal reimbursement percentages on the patients newly covered.

Apart from this straightforward reimbursement arrangement, states provide hospitals supplemental payments, with the federal government matching the payments, in order to achieve various policy objectives. The hospital tax exploits this supplemental payment mechanism in a manner which the General Accountability Office criticized strongly in a 2014 report.

Let’s start with some fundamental questions. Why is government taxing hospitals, which only serves to raise the cost of the nation’s primary providers of health care. Many are non-profit. Why tax non-profits? Many are for-profit and already pay corporate income taxes. Why levy a second tax? Hospital taxes are truly strange and wonderful.

Just before Christmas, the Connecticut General Assembly went into a special session, to approve unanimously a plan to extend the state’s stratospheric hospital tax for seven years. The plan will generate about $675 million annually, including $375 million in federal matching funds.

The plan requires the approval of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS), which may not be forthcoming. In mid-2018, a U.S. Senate committee took a look at hospital taxes and issued a report calling hospital taxes “a shell game” and singling out Connecticut as a major perpetrator.

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  • here on The Red Line
  • CT Examiner - CT's Hospital Tax Exploits Medicaid To Finance Irresponsible State Spending, January 12, 2020
  • Republican American - State's Hospital Tax 'Shell Game' in Peril, January 15, 2020
  • The Endless Game of Whack-a-Toll-Mole

    Highway tolls in Connecticut have become a game of whack-a-mole. Gov. Ned Lamont’s toll mole has popped up again, just two weeks after having been whacked summarily by General Assembly leaders of his own party. The current mole is a variant of the governor’s original trucks-only campaign proposal. Things have gone full circle.

    The game started with candidate Lamont’s vague trucks-only plan. Once inaugurated, Lamont whacked his own proposal, saying that truck tolls alone wouldn’t raise enough money. He added cars, and presented a sketchy eight-page plan with a smothering network of as many as 80 gantry locations on interstate and state highways.

    Fierce public opposition and insufficient Democratic support whacked this proposal, but Lamont’s toll mole popped back up again as about 60 gantries in a system stripped of all state highways, except the Merritt Parkway.

    When this mole was whacked by continuing public opposition and Democratic intransigence, Lamont gave his own plan another good whack.

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    The surprising income equality in America

    This is a column about a column.

    On November 4, 2019, the Wall Street Journal published a column entitled “The Truth About Income Inequality,” by Phil Gramm, former U.S. Senator from Texas, and John Early, twice Assistant Commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    The column makes a convincing case that the U.S. enjoys remarkable income equality –  not inequality.

    This reality flies in the face of the almost universal belief that the U.S. suffers from gross income inequality, which notion serves as the foundation of all the extravagant proposals from one side of the political spectrum, ranging from free college and Medicare for All to the wealth tax that Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders advocate.

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    There are better ways to cut traffic congestion than tolls

    Gov. Ned Lamont is poised to re-launch his highly unpopular tolls plan, revised to reduce tolling to a rumored 16 to 18 gantries located only on bridges in need of repair. So what happened to the governor’s concern with traffic congestion? Repairing bridges, however necessary, won’t relieve congestion.

    It could be that Lamont is holding a Tolls 2.0 plan at the ready, including the remainder of his original 59 gantries and his trademark congestion pricing scheme, ready to be sprung on the public once he’s established his 16-18 gantry beach head.

    In anticipation of Tolls 2.0, it’s worth reminding our wealthy governor of the obvious: Most people on congested rush hour roads are driving to work. So, tolls are effectively a payroll tax. Moreover, congestion pricing wouldn’t reduce congestion, because people can’t be late to work — they can’t wait for lower toll rates later on.

    Ironically, there’s a simple tax-free way to reduce congestion, and it is already in use across the state. School districts employ staggered “school bell times.” Preschools start at one time, elementary schools at another, and middle schools and high schools at yet other times. This avoids local traffic jams and optimizes bus utilization

    The state could follow the same approach, mandating that municipalities and major employers collaborate to devise staggered work days. In Hartford, Aetna could begin its day at 8:15 a.m., while CIGNA in neighboring Bloomfield could start at 9 a.m. and most state employees might be required to show up at 7:30 a.m.

    If local school boards can accomplish this kind of system planning, why can’t local governments and major employers?

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    How state worker staffing hurts Connecticut

    Once widely used, the now arcane term “featherbedding” describes perfectly the modus operandi of public sector unions in the state of Connecticut.

    Webster’s dictionary defines featherbedding as “the requiring of an employer, usually under union rule or safety statute, to hire more employees than are needed or to limit production.” Wikipedia offers the same definition, elaborating that featherbedding involves “work procedures which appear pointless, complex and time-consuming merely to employ additional workers.”

    A recent CT Mirror article on staffing in one of the state’s 15 prisons reported “According to figures provided by DOC [Department of Corrections], there were 139 corrections officers and supervisors for 78 inmates one day last month. That does not include medical or mental health staff assigned to the facility [Northern Correctional Institution].”

    An isolated aberration? No.

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    Dannel Malloy was unpopular, but his legacy is worse than you think

    There’s a strange ongoing media fascination with former Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, including a Sept. 5 article “State employee OT is up, but salary costs are lower than a decade ago,” focusing upon his efforts to downsize the state labor force and negotiate wage concessions from state unions.

    It’s a marvel that anyone is interested in someone who left office as the least-popular governor in the country.

    But that’s the point. The recent article implies that Malloy’s unpopularity reflects an unfair assessment of his performance and that he deserves a resurrection. He doesn’t. He mismanaged the state labor force, achieving insignificant downsizing and perpetuating overgenerous wages.

    Diversion, interception and conjury with state funds

    First, it was diversion. Now it’s “interception.”

    First, Gov. Ned Lamont diverted car sales tax revenue that his predecessor Democrat Dannel Malloy committed to the Special Transportation Fund (STF). Lamont’s diversion completely undermined public confidence in the “lockbox” that is supposed to protect transportation funds in the STF and destroyed any possibility for tolls.

    At the very beginning of the budget process, Lamont announced that he would divert $1.2 billion of car sales taxes over five years, but, in face of a huge public outcry, he backed down, diverted only the $58 million in the current budget and promised not to divert funds from the STF in future budgets, Scout’s Honor.

    Yet, now, we discover that Lamont is “intercepting” (diverting) revenue that is supposed to go into the General Fund and redirecting it to fund his off-budget, public-private partnership with billionaire Ray Dalio.

    Single-use plastic bag ban could be costly for taxpayers

    What if every smoker in Connecticut stopped smoking? What a boon to the health of the citizenry! However, the state would be out about $365 million in annual cigarette tax revenue.

    Virtually the same thing just happened. The state’s largest retailers stopped offering disposable plastic check-out bags to customers Thursday, rather than begin paying Governor Lamont’s new 10-cent tax on each bag. The new state budget includes $55 million in plastic bag-tax revenue over the next two years. With the state’s retailers going cold turkey, that revenue is unlikely to materialize.

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