OPINION: Meriden’s City Council needs to take a stand on tolls

OPINION: Meriden’s City Council needs to take a stand on tolls

By Len Suzio

All over Connecticut local governments are debating non-binding resolutions expressing objections to the implementation of tolls on our highways. While the ultimate decision is the state legislature’s prerogative, the impact will be felt by everyone on a local level.

Meriden in particular, will be impacted because we are at the crossroads of many of the state’s limited access roads. Meriden residents driving to and from work in other communities will be paying hundreds of dollars per year in tolls under any of the scenarios being considered.  Moreover, any goods shipped into Meriden will be transported on trucks paying tolls. Those costs will be passed on to local consumers at the grocery store and retail outlets. Consequently, the impact on citizens in Meriden will be substantial.

In light of the significant impact on our citizens and our community it is appropriate that local elected officials express an opinion to Hartford about tolls. About a dozen communities already have passed “no-tolls” resolutions and many more are scheduled to vote on similar resolutions in the next month.

On Monday, April 1, the Meriden City Council considered a no-tolls resolution proposed by Councilor Dan Brunet. By a 6-5 vote the motion was tabled. The primary reason expressed by councilors who opposed voting on the resolution was that they didn’t have enough information to make an informed decision. That sounds reasonable.

But if City Councilors are sincere about their motives, they ought to reconsider the resolution, modify it, and pass it. The very reason stated by City Councilors, their lack of information about the issue, applies to the state legislature as well. The primary factor driving the projected Special Transportation Fund deficits (which are the main reason argued for tolls in Connecticut) is the $100 billion record-breaking spending proposed by Governor Malloy 4 years ago.

Speaker of the House, Representative Joe Aresimowicz, during the Southington Town Council meeting on March 25, stated that no one in the legislature, not one legislative committee, department or commission reviewed  the proposal, let alone vetted the numbers. This is gross negligence and a betrayal of the taxpayers.

The legislature has had the proposal for four years. What is the excuse for not examining the record-breaking spending?

The $100 billion spending spree is by far the biggest fiscal commitment ever proposed in Connecticut. No spending projects have ever come close to that stupendous amount of money. Who can defend the legislature’s refusal to review and vet the proposed spending?

If City Councilors sincerely feel unable to vote on a no-tolls resolution due to a lack of information, those same councilors should be outraged by the legislature’s refusal to review and analyze the most spectacular spending program ever proposed for our state. Surely, if ignorance and lack of information is the reason to table a vote on a no-tolls resolution, how much more does that reasoning apply to the legislature’s debating tolls without even reviewing the record-breaking expenditures that are triggering the “need for tolls”?

Let’s be clear:  The legislature has failed in its duty to review the $100 billion plan. The Speaker of the House has admitted that fact on record during a recorded public meeting. I have a copy of the video in which he says in no uncertain terms that no one in the legislature reviewed the proposal.

I urge the City Council to reconsider the no-tolls resolution and modify it to express their concern about the legislature’s irresponsible failure to vet the $100 billion spending plan. I would suggest something such as:

 “Whereas the Speaker of the House has publicly acknowledged the legislature has failed to review and vet the long-range spending that is the biggest factor contributing to the forecasted STF deficit we urge the legislature to suspend the debate on tolling and focus on the spending which it has failed to even cursorily examine. This is gross negligence and can be remedied only by the legislature fully vetting the record-breaking spending behind the ‘need’ for tolls. The only remedy is to suspend the tolls debate and vet the record-breaking spending plan before any vote on tolls is taken.”

Councilors, prove you mean what you said when you refused to vote on the no-tolls resolution. Send a message to Hartford!

LenSuzio is a former state senator and vice-chair of the Transportation Committee.