Restoring tolls to Connecticut's highways is being presented by high-minded people as the responsible solution to the neglect of the state's transportation system and the draining of its dedicated fund.
Most candidates for the Democratic nomination for governor support or seem sympathetic to tolls, Ned Lamont being the most enthusiastic. Independent candidate Oz Griebel seems enthusiastic, too. The candidates were happy to say so the other day at a forum of the Connecticut Construction Industries Association, whose members expect to be paid most of the revenue raised.
But restoring tolls is a bad idea -- not because Connecticut's transportation system doesn't need work but because any new source of revenue will mainly just relieve the political pressure to economize throughout state government.
That is, tolls will solidify state government's most recent contract with the state employee unions, which prohibits layoffs and reform of the state pension system. Tolls will protect collective bargaining for state and municipal employees and binding arbitration of their contracts, the mechanisms by which the unions control the government.
Tolls will delay auditing the state's primary education system, in which social promotion produces illiterates at ever-increasing expense, and delay auditing of the state's welfare system, which subsidizes childbearing outside marriage and thereby perpetuates poverty.
Tolls will distract from University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst's million-dollar salary and the labor policies that reinstated a UConn employee to his job after he operated a university vehicle while smoking dope, policies that destroy standards.
Tolls will ratify the current state administration's foolish transportation priorities, like the bus highway from Hartford to New Britain and the commuter railroad between Springfield and New Haven, even as the country's busiest commuter railroad, the Metro-North line between New Haven and Manhattan, needs expensive renovation.
Tolls will also ratify Hartford's spending $80 million on a minor-league baseball stadium despite the city's insolvency, as well as the Malloy administration's reimbursing half that money in a special grant to dissuade the city from filing for the bankruptcy it needs.
No state government that was trying to economize rather than just gratify special interests would maintain any of these policies.
The Malloy administration and its predecessors have often raided the transportation fund because deferring maintenance of infrastructure is the easy and traditional way of deceiving the public, shifting the financial burden to future elected officials who will have to raise even more revenue. But giving state government more revenue will only hasten Connecticut's decline. The state cannot begin to recover until government's burden on the people is reduced.
There are many other state government accounts to raid -- funds that should be raided so accountability in government can be restored. Let the money in those accounts be diverted to transportation for a change while the rest of state government is cleaned up.
Contrary to the advocates of tolls, the creakiness of its transportation system isn't what is discouraging economic growth in Connecticut. No, economic growth in the state is being discouraged by the incompetence, corruption, mistaken priorities, and spectacular unfunded liabilities of state government itself. Modern trains and smooth pavements won't lure anyone here while state government can offer newcomers only decades of new taxes and fees to sustain the mistakes that it desperately refuses to acknowledge.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.