Here’s a sentence nobody in Connecticut believes: we’re going to miss Gov. Dannel P. Malloy when he’s gone.
So what if he’s the most unpopular governor in the country, and the guy who everyone blames for the fact that Connecticut is still stuck in the fiscal muck? So what if he doesn’t understand and can’t connect with the business world? And so what if he’s prickly and confrontational instead of blandly reassuring like his predecessor? Nobody’s perfect.
I still think we’re going to miss him, if only because unlike just about every other politician, he has been more than willing to make deeply unpopular decisions and stick with them.
I mean, this is the guy who took a run at the state employee unions during his first year and office, and made them blink on a concessions package that many members hated. This is the guy who infuriated teachers and public school supporters with his doomed education reforms in 2012, too. He’s raised taxes, stuck by a busway project that had loads of detractors, cut aid to towns, laid off state employees, stuck by his much-criticized “First Five” program, and much more.
He has consistently presented the legislature with unpalatable budgets, just to see them waffle, water it down, and walk away. He’s tried over and over again to goad the legislature into fulfilling its duty to the state, though he has rarely been successful.
The difference is that the leadership in the legislature is very sensitive to the opinions of certain segments of the public. Dan Malloy, on the other hand, really doesn’t give a crap about what you think of him. If he did, he wouldn’t be doing things like pushing hard for something as unpopular as tolls right here at the end of his final term.
It would have been so easy to just let inertia carry him downhill towards a gentle January landing, but no. Gov. Malloy shattered the lulling peace of summer by adding $10 million for a study on tolls to the Bond Commission’s agenda — and then getting it passed. Suddenly, everyone was up in arms.
What’s the big idea? We thought we were safe from tolls, especially after the legislature took the easy way out and never called any kind of vote on it. We were all starting to think that we’d be able to drive on our broken-down, cracked, and potholed roads at no additional charge forever, even as our cars use less and less gas. It would have been great. We’d have paid less in gas taxes, but not have to make up the shortfall in any way. We were all ready to blame those drunken sailor politicians in Hartford for wheeling out big barrels of cash and setting them on fire for when I-95 finally falls into the sea.
But no, here we go with Mr. Take-Responsibility-For-Your-Lazy-Selves with his tolls again. Great.
The reaction was exactly what you’d think. The whole ridiculous “debate” on tolls started up again, with those in opposition clutching their wallets and howling at the idea of spending $1.25 to drive to Danbury.
Please. Every other state that we touch does this. You probably pay lots of tolls to New York and Massachusetts already, and it has yet to bankrupt you.
Still others, including a number of Democrats, complained that they’d already studied tolls. Gov. Malloy reminded them that the legislature doesn’t pass tolls because lawmakers complain that they didn’t have enough information. Well, here you go. Information.
And no, the money isn’t coming from the general fund, this is paid for by issuing state bonds, just like lots of other projects.
Look. The grim reality is that Connecticut has been living on borrowed time. There’s a lot of reasons why, including an economy that has only just now restored all the jobs lost from the recession, a bloated and unwieldy pension scheme, our patchwork of independent towns with duplicate services, and the slowing of cash flow from Washington.
But sooner or later, we’re going to be completely swallowed by deficits, and we’re not going to have any more neat accounting tricks or rainy day funds or one-time windfalls to fill the hole.
We’re going to need tolls. If we don’t do that, we’ll need to do something else, like hike the income tax again. Tolls are the least painful option. Gov. Malloy is trying to give the next poor sap who blunders into the governor’s office tools to do that with.
Not that he’s likely to get any thanks. But when has he ever wanted any?
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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