Connecticut’s General Assembly went into full chaos this week, at least when it came to the question of tolls. Last week I noted this absurd situation: Democrats, the state’s dominant party, came up with a scheme designed to nurture the scaredy cats in the party who, from what I can gather, would like to approve tolls for trucks but not unless they know everybody else is going to do it, too.
Since everybody can’t go second, or last, or otherwise not first, this became a standoff.
In other words, this was very silly. And, since this is government we are talking about, it’s also super embarrassing.
Consider that Democrats hold a majority in both chambers and that the governor is a Democrat. You would think that would make way for some rapid action on things that need to get done, no?
And it got even sillier. Last week, the work-around was to have both House and Senate simultaneously vote on — and I’m just trying to put forth what I think it was that was going on here — bills that were the same but not identical so that nobody would have to go first, and then one of the chambers would have to vote again to make the bills one bill and then the governor could sign it and we would have tolls on trucks and then not have to drive around potholes the rest of our lives — or something like that.
But this week, as reported by the Connecticut Mirror, it got sillier.
The Republican party, which is showing a lot of muscle for a minority, was threatening to debate for 30 hours — which in lawmaking is like kicking sand in the face of some weakling on the beach — and Democrats buckled.
For a while there was the idea of splitting the vote in an even more coward friendly way. So, instead of voting on truck tolls over a dozen bridges the plan was to split the bill in two, with each chamber approving tolls on six bridges. Then they could combine approvals, and both bills could pass with the assurance that the other chamber wasn’t chickening out.
Though it might have been amusing to see how that would work out, it looks like this exercise in futility is coming to an end. Gov. Ned Lamont has reportedly given up, and you can’t blame him.
Tolls had been considered for all vehicles, and even though that was trimmed to just trucks, there was a wariness about the idea that lingered. Tolls are a tough sell because many in Connecticut feel they’re already paying enough, if not already paying too much. In today’s climate, a close examination of spending is likely to be more well received, as developments in Meriden have shown.
Resident Michael Carabetta spearheaded a grass-roots movement two summers ago that overturned a City Council budget that called for a tax increase. You could say it was a response to what is perceived as an assumption that since spending always goes up so should tax revenue. At the very least it was a great conversation prod: Why does everything always have to go up?
Carabetta won election to the council in November and has had a chance to keep that conversation going. So when it was put forward that a banquet facility at the golf course would cost the average taxpayer just five bucks per year, he took the opportunity to observe that five bucks here and five bucks there start to add up. The next thing you know you’re up to your ears in five bucks.
The banquet facility proposal has been tabled.
Now obviously there are things worth spending on, and elected officials are tasked with figuring out what those things are and how much should be spent on them. A perspective like Carabetta’s adds an important element to the deliberations.
Just recently, he called the city’s fireworks celebration into question.
It takes some courage to take on something as traditional as the annual Independence Day celebration. Carabetta suggested that things like repairing roads might be more important. So now the council is considering raising the $30,000 needed to throw a fireworks party through donations.
“As much as I want to have celebrations, I think the things we can fundraise for should be taken out of the budget,” he said.
Since people are used to having to make the distinction between necessities and niceties in their own budgets, it’s hard to see how that approach wouldn’t gain support when it comes to municipal government, and beyond.
Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or firstname.lastname@example.org.