Editorial: Mis-marketing the Budget

in Editorials

Anyone who spent any time at the mercy of Connecticut’s budget woes under the Malloy administration can understand that the teeter-totter of budget cuts and tax increases is at best half the story. What the balance sheet misses are the enormous and less-quantifiable costs of uncertainty, inconsistency, and plain chaos.

How can there not be uncertainty, at best, when just days before the latest budget came to a vote, most elected officials of both parties in Connecticut were in the dark about what it contained?

On the organizational and agency level – if you have not experienced it – the reflexive response to cuts and uncertainty is an unfortunate combination of delayed scheduling and a spending spree to clear accounts and justify budgets.

The good and the bad is that the Lamont administration – however you count the precise tally – in the latest budget has taken steps forward and at least one major step back.

So, on the one hand it was heartening yesterday to read CT Mirror’s generally upbeat coverage of the budget as it has affected environmental goals for the state. In place of budget “sweeps,” Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes emphasized an administration commitment to fostering predictability for business in the state. In the case of the Connecticut Green Bank and the energy efficiency fund at least, that commitment means that the budget does redirect designated environmental funding toward other uses.

This provides some hope that House Bill 6637, “An Act requiring an invasive species stamp for the operation of a motorboat on the inland waters of the state,” which will cost in-state boaters $5 and out-of-state boaters $20, will actually be used to combat invasive species and not be redirected into the general fund. The fees in theory should be deposited in a Connecticut Lakes, Rivers and Ponds Preservation Fund.

That’s good news if you’ve been following Julia Werth’s reporting on the environmental and financial rewards of consistency and careful coordination when combating invasives.

On the other hand, news that the latest budget diverts a significant portion of revenues generated by automobile sales taxes away from the Special Transportation Fund “lockbox” for the next two years and into the general fund pretty much confirms the criticism of those opposed to reintroducing tolling to Connecticut.

Just months after Connecticut voters overwhelmingly embraced the idea that transportation funds should be used for transportation, the legislature proved itself unable to abide by that commitment. Of course, given decades of negligence by the state (and its people) to properly account for pension costs, we understand that crafting a satisfactory budget is near impossible, but still in the process the legislature cast doubt on every supposedly designated stream of funding, whether for infrastructure or the environment.

To be clear, if this is how the legislature treats a “lockbox,” what should we make of a “Connecticut Lakes, Rivers and Ponds Preservation Fund” other than a marketing gimmick?

If you support increased revenues for the state to pay for its obligations, and aspirations, there is no doubt that tolling provides a viable new source of dollars – including out-of-state dollars.  As part of our effort to reach out to both sides of the aisle, we’ll let you decide that question on your own, but please don’t confuse tolling revenues with transportation investments. 

If the public is cynical, they have every right to be.

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