HARTFORD, CT — Leaders from labor, business, and the environment joined legislative leaders from both parties Friday to urge voters to support securing certain revenue for the Special Transportation Fund.
The so-called transportation lockbox, which requires certain revenue to be spent on transportation improvements, will be on the ballot Nov. 6, but supporters worry voters will forget to answer the question.
Connecticut doesn’t have voter referendum or initiative so constitutional ballot questions proposed by the General Assembly are not common. History has shown that there are a large number of voters who will stop voting before they get to the bottom of the ballot.
Michael Cacace, who is heading up the Securing Connecticut’s Future initiative with former Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele, said when people vote in a midterm election they don’t often go down the ballot far enough to see the referendum items.
He said in 2014 when there was a referendum about early voting on the ballot there was a 15 percent fall off from those who voted for the top of the ticket and did not vote for the referendum item, which was defeated.
Cacace said they’ve already raised about $50,000 to do some polling and get the word out about the ballot question.
“Without this folks, we’ll keep struggling as the years keep going on and the state will not move forward,” Rep. Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, said.
The Special Transportation Fund was on the verge of insolvency earlier this year until the state dedicated the new car sales tax and a portion of the state sales tax to the fund, which is used to pay for improvements to roads, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure.
Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said all these ballot question does is ask whether the money dedicated toward transportation should stay in the transportation fund.
“Now we have to make sure that money stays there,” Fasano said.
Are there ways around it? Sure, but that doesn’t mean the state shouldn’t seek a constitutional amendment to make it tougher for future legislatures to raid, Fasano said.
“Is this perfect? No, but you can’t let the perfect get in the way of the good,” Fasano said.
He said this is not about tolls. He said it’s about making sure money stays in the Special Transportation Fund and “there’s no downside” to that.
Guerrera said this is not a toll issue.
Connecticut, which doesn’t have tolls at the moment, would need to pass legislation to allow tolls. But Guerrera said even if that happened the toll revenue would be regulated largely by the federal government, which doesn’t allow the money to be spent on anything other than improvements to the road that was tolled.
Nate Brown, president of the Waterbury Building Trades, said the state doesn’t need other revenue sources, it just needs to stop raiding the Special Transportation Fund every time there’s a budget crisis.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said people may disagree about how money ought to be raised to fund transportation, but none of that is on the ballot.
“The only thing that matters is if you agree money raised to fund transportation should be used to fund transportation then vote yes,” Bronin said.
He said there’s nothing confusing about this issue or what’s at stake.
“It’s about jobs. It’s about transportation,” Bronin said.
But not everyone agrees.
While the legislature agreed to send the question about the lockbox to voters, a number of Republican lawmakers objected because they didn’t believe the language was strong enough.
Fasano said there’s always a way for future legislatures to get their hands on the money, but the constitution prohibits one legislature from binding a future legislature.
During the debate the second time the House had to approve sending the question to voters, House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said the Democratic definition of a lockbox has a nice lock on the front, but big holes in the back.
“We appreciate the effort, it just doesn’t go far enough,” Klarides said.
She said “good enough isn’t good enough in this situation.”
Klarides had voted in favor of the measure in 2015 before voting against it in 2017.
The legislature had to pass the measure twice to get it on the ballot because it didn’t receive the support of a supermajority the first time.