OPINION: Could beating tolls bring moderation?

OPINION: Could beating tolls bring moderation?



Could Governor Lamont's failure to persuade enough Democratic state legislators to impose tolls on state highways indicate a chance of changing the state's political trajectory?

For if the party's comfortable majorities in the state House and Senate can't muster the votes for tolls now, when the next legislative election is more than a year away, they won't be able to muster them next year either, an election year. The Republican minority won't provide any votes for tolls. So the broader question is whether the anti-toll Democratic faction — maybe five senators and 20 representatives — is ready to combine with the Republicans on other issues to limit the liberal Democratic agenda in the General Assembly, much of which passed this year.

The governor keeps making himself look silly on the issue, as if changing his position wasn't bad enough, going from his campaign stance of tolling only out-of-state trucks to his stance in office of tolling everybody.

Last week the governor tried to win the votes of the holdout Democratic legislators by proposing a small cut in the state income tax if tolls are imposed. His idea seemed to be that cutting the income tax would offset some toll expense for lower-income people. But lower-income people pay little or nothing in state income taxes anyway, while everyone would pay tolls, and who would trust state government not to raise taxes somewhere else once tolls were imposed, canceling any savings? The governor's proposal impressed no one.

The big problem with tolls is that they are just too visible a way of raising money. There's no way to hide them.

So if tolls aren't enacted, maybe Connecticut will start asking why, if, as the governor and some others say, restoring the state's transportation system is so urgent, it can't be given priority over state government's other undertakings? That is, why are government employee compensation, education, welfare, and city bailouts more important than averting another bridge collapse? Why can only transportation be taken as a hostage for a tax increase?

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PAY KIDS TO GO TO SCHOOL?: Perhaps inspired by the California cities that pay young troublemakers not to shoot people, Hartford's public schools plan to start paying underperforming incoming ninth-graders $100 a week to attend four weeks of summer school. That's pretty good money for kids who are ordinarily too young to hold formal summer jobs.

One problem with the program is that while the students would be paid only for perfect attendance, no academic achievement would be required of them. While no academic achievement is required in Connecticut's schools for promotion from grade to grade and then graduation from high school, at least students aren't paid for indifference as they soon may be paid by Hartford's summer school.

But paying Hartford's summer school kids may be worth a try. After all, paying teachers more every year, as Connecticut has done for decades, has accomplished nothing for student performance. Constantly raising the pay of teachers and other government employees only purchases their support for the current political regime.

Educational results are almost entirely a matter of parenting, which, as those results suggest, is much in decline. Indeed, a quarter of Hartford's students are considered chronically absent, signifying parents who are indifferent at best. So maybe those parents also should be paid to get their kids to school — at least until responsible parents and students start asking why they aren't being paid too.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.


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