OPINION: Keeping track of Special Transportation Fund dollars

OPINION: Keeping track of Special Transportation Fund dollars

Where are all the Special Transportation Fund tax dollars going? Not into highways and bridges!

In my previous column I spoke about the proposed record-breaking spending on transportation infrastructure that is the key argument advanced to justify tolls in Connecticut. I pointed out that former Governor Malloy’s $100 billion “wish list” was pure pie-in-the-sky never vetted by any committee in the Legislature, even though it required a whopping and unprecedented level of spending.

The Lamont Administration implicitly recognized “Malloy’s Whopper” when it dramatically cut back spending in its own transportation infrastructure proposal, “CT-2030.”

Nevertheless, Governor Lamont’s CT-2030 transportation plan contains inconsistent and inflated infrastructure spending. But at least this involves spending on actual transportation projects.

The Special Transportation Fund (“STF”) expenditures are another area fraught with shocking facts and questions that should outrage the public.

Most people assume that the overwhelming share of spending in the STF budget is for roads and bridges, but that is wildly inaccurate.

A graph of the STF revenue sources and expenditures extracted from the Governor’s proposed budget reveals some very surprising information. Here’s what you can learn from the STF graphs and supporting details:

■ Almost half (about $830 million) of the STF revenues come from motor vehicle fuel taxes (gas tax and the Petroleum Gross Receipts tax) and

■ Three-quarters ($1.318 billion) of all STF revenues come from motor vehicle fuel taxes plus motor vehicle-related fees. Only about one-quarter of STF revenues come from sources other than motor vehicle related taxes and fees, but

■ Only 17% of STF expenditures are for the Department of Transportation (DOT) operating expenses. In other words, only $1 of every $6 dollars of STF spending is for the DOT itself, moreover

■ The DOT spent even less for roads and bridges — the current (FYE 2020) figures I have obtained from the DOT show that our state DOT will spend only $155.2 million on highway maintenance this year. In other words, less than 10% of STF expenditures actually go to maintain roads and bridges, but

■ The DOT spends about $416 million per year on public transportation subsidies, more than double what it does on highway and bridge maintenance. Connecticut motorists are paying substantially more to subsidize public transportation than to maintain the roads and bridges they use! So,

■ The 3% of the public that uses public transit benefits from hundreds of millions of dollars more DOT spending than the 97% of the public that uses automobiles. And to add insult to injury, the affluent Fairfield County to New York commuters get their Connecticut state income taxes dramatically reduced because the taxes they pay to New York are deductible against their Connecticut State income tax obligations.

■ The STF includes $237 million on “Fringe Benefits & Other.” In fact, almost $150 million of this cost is due to the underfunding of employee benefits for decades. Today, STF spending on “fringe benefits” exceeds spending to maintain our roads and bridges!

How long has the STF budget been abused?

A March 2018 Office of Legislative Research bulletin states, “starting in 1987, the legislature transferred a series of state agency costs from the General Fund to the STF, in part due to growing General Fund deficits.”

So, the legislature began using the STF as a piggy bank more than 30 years ago, and now much of STF spending has nothing to do with highway and bridge maintenance.

The numbers above show that even after eliminating debt repayment, which accounts for about half of STF expenditures, much of the remaining spending is not on roads and bridges.

No wonder why Connecticut motorists are asking, “where is all the money going?”

The answer is a lot of STF spending is not going to roads and bridges. It’s going to pay for the sins of the past and to subsidize public transportation.

All this is bad enough, but when combined with nearly $1.9 billion of gas taxes (“Petroleum Gross Receipts Tax”) money looted by the Legislature from 2000-2015  before it could be placed into the STF the Hartford politicians created the “perfect storm” for Connecticut’s transportation infrastructure, leaving the STF burdened with a whopping amount of spending not related to roads and bridges and with financial reserves depleted by raiding almost $2 billion of PGRT receipts before they could be placed in the STF.

Connecticut taxpayers have reason to distrust the politicians at the Capitol.

Resistance to the tolls is the public saying to the politicians, “You created this mess. You raided billions of gas tax revenues and you spend billions on non-highway expenses. We don’t trust you!”

Len Suzio is a former state senator.