Don Pesci: On tolls, Lamont is spinning like a top


Clever frogs know how to take a step back so that they might advance two steps forward.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont met recently with the governors of two contiguous states, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, to palaver about infrastructure maintenance. A fierce middle class taxpayer opposition to tolling in Connecticut has given the governor and the two Democrat gate-keepers in the General Assembly, Senate President Martin Looney and Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz, political hiccups.

Lamont began pushing for tolls during his election campaign for governor. In that campaign, Republican nominee for governor Bob Stefanowski was widely derided by Democrats and critics in the state’s media for centering his campaign on a pledge to do away with Connecticut’s income tax over a ten year period.

Pressing on, Stefanowski said his pledge was aspirational and, once accomplished, would reset Connecticut in New England’s crown as a haven from excessive taxation. In addition, it would force politicians in the state to confront the ongoing problem of excessive spending.

Couldn’t be done, everyone said; after all, the state was looking down the barrel of a biennial deficit approaching $4 billion. If politics is the art of the possible, the Democrats’ effort to impose upon Connecticut’s already tax overburdened voters a new revenue source has been, to put it kindly, unartful.
Russell Long of Louisiana might have enjoyed the first toll proposal Lamont unfurled in his gubernatorial campaign. “Most people,” said Long, “have the same philosophy about taxes.” And he poeticized the philosophy:

Don’t tax you,

Don’t tax me,

Tax that fellow behind the tree.

Get someone other than voters, in other words, to pay for your expenditure. For campaigner Lamont, the “fellow behind the tree” was large trucks steaming through Connecticut – a truck tax. Once elected, Lamont realized that truck tolling alone would not provide Connecticut with the revenue it would need for necessary infrastructure repairs. And then too, there was that pesky multi-billion deficit poking its nose over the horizon.

Lamont suggested a massive number of toll gantries, later reduced to 50, a plan that very likely ran into difficulties with federal overseers who would allow toll gantries only to reduce congestion. Connecticut may be congested with taxes, but cars? Not so much.

Along came No Tolls CT, which struck a responsive chord in the hearts of voters already overburdened by a kleptocracy that had been raiding the transportation fund since 2001.

Gatekeeper magicians Looney and Aresimowicz were unable, they said, to round up the yes votes in the General Assembly, even though Democrats enjoy huge margins in both chambers following the most recent elections in which President Donald Trump, not yet impeached, was made to play the role in the Democrat campaign script of Beelzebub, sulfur pouring out of his nostrils. The propaganda – Trump did not appear on the ballot – worked, some political commentators believe, to swell Democrat numbers in the General Assembly. Half of the Democrat caucus is composed of progressives, sulfur pouring out of their nostrils.
Lamont, as it turns out, was far more successful than Stefanowski in fooling some of the people some of the time, but his recent toll proposal has strained the credulity even of his well-wishers in Connecticut’s media.
Lamont has now reverted to his initial campaign toll proposal. Maybe tolling only trucks and tolls on bridges was not such a bad idea.

Emilie Munson of CTMirror puts it this way:

“Either proposal involving tolls or bridges would represent a significant retreat from Lamont’s proposal for numerous gantries on interstates 95, 91, 84 and the Merritt Parkway.
“And neither idea is a clear winner: both concepts face some reservations from the governor’s office and within the Democratic caucus, as well as full-throated opposition from Republican leaders.
“The resurfacing of the trucks-only concept, which he [Lamont] championed on the campaign trail and then retreated from early in office, may bring fresh accusations of political flip-flopping — even if the new suggestions are slightly different from last year’s.”

It’s not just a flip-flop, which may sometimes be written off to unforeseen exigencies. What we have here is a flip-flop of a flip-flop. Stefanowski, to his credit, neither flipped nor flopped.
Stefanowski has not entirely retreated from the political stage, nor has David Stemerman, who finished third in the Republican Gubernatorial primary.

Stemerman’s tweets are not as flashy as Trump’s lightning bolts, but they get the job done: “CT should be thriving, but a toxic combination of high cost of doing business, unfunded pension liabilities and poor infrastructure, driven by bad policies from Hartford, are hurting our state as @CNBC’s annual ranking of states for business confirms today.”

One cannot help but wonder whether the governors of Rhode Island and Massachusetts might agree with that assessment. When Lamont stops spinning like a top, it might do him well to address himself seriously to the toxic combination referenced by Stemerman – and others.

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based columnist.