The argument against tolls

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RP Democratic view web sig GOP / Hearst Connecticut Media

Last week, state Sen. Will Haskell wagged his Twitter finger at “folks” (like me, and many others in Wilton) “who are opposed to tolls,” then castigated us for “rarely [having] the guts to explain their alternative.” Haskell then said that the two options are “more debt” or “higher taxes,” again replacing “tolls” with his Newspeak-ian, “user fee.”

Based upon the senator’s comments, he seems genuinely oblivious to the fact that Connecticut’s debt, and resulting tax burden, are most basically a function of spending. Unless the senator badly misspoke, his view is that Hartford could not meaningfully cut spending or spend more responsibly in any material respect; those are not meaningful alternatives. They are non-starters.

Many of Sen. Haskell’s constituents in Wilton disagree. Certainly, if our representatives have listened to anything their constituents have said since January, spending reform certainly ought to be part of the discussion in Hartford about how to fix Connecticut. This is the true “elephant in the room,” mostly unacknowledged by Democrats including Haskell, but there, always there.

So, let us hope the senator misspoke.

In any event, I am one of those in Sen. Haskell’s district who believe there are many valid reasons to oppose the Lamont toll “proposals,” based not only on the ham-handed manner in which Gov. Lamont and Democrats have brought the issue to voters, but as a basic matter of policy.

For starters, those opposed to what Hartford is saying on the issue are appropriately confused about what Lamont and other Democrats actually intend to do, aside from (1) ignoring months and months of campaign promises and (2) transferring more money to union supporters. It is reminiscent of Democrats’ bizarre and implausible comments about their legislative priorities stated early in 2019 —force well-run schools to consolidate! Ban artificial turf fields! Let incarcerated felons vote! No, wait! Maybe we didn’t mean that! Those are just concepts! Well, maybe we did! Let’s “have a discussion!”

Broader tolls were a terrible idea back in the old days (early November 2018) when candidate Ned Lamont opposed them, and they are a still terrible idea, for reasons Lamont surely knows. It does not take a partisan to acknowledge this.

Starting with Lamont’s transparent campaign lies (i.e., that he’d agree to tolls only on out-of-state trucks —which many explained was never feasible), Lamont and other Democrats’ position on tolls has been shifting, to say the least. Even last week, the Hartford Courant’s Kevin Rennie pointed out that Lamont “appears to have no fixed beliefs, other than he needs something to vindicate his foolish decision to announce he’s gambling his leadership on tolls in the early going of his four-year term.”

But let’s set aside tactics and messaging, such as they are, because they obscure a basic truth about tolls, which is that Hartford ought to cut spending before it hits our communities with yet an additional, burdensome tax. Opponents in Wilton know this too well and are comprised of authentically “grassroots” voices from retirees, contractors, landscapers, drivers, business owners, retirees and others who are already overburdened by Connecticut’s badly distressed economy and its effects in Wilton. Senator Haskell can call it a “user fee” or a “tax” or “lemon meringue,” but it takes money out of their pockets and sends it to Hartford.

It is puzzling and disappointing that Sen. Haskell would be so cavalier and dismissive of those who oppose tolls. It is partisanship, not leadership, that defends Hartford’s indefensible and denigrates important constituent voices in service of the Hartford majority and their sponsors.

Then again, maybe it is not puzzling at all. Haskell made his comment amidst the governor’s suggestions that supporting tolls is the “courageous” route for legislators like Haskell (much as Democrats believe we ought to measure their “generosity” by how much of our money they spend). But there’s nothing “courageous” about taking yet more money from taxpayers while giving responsible spending only desultory consideration and insulting good people who disagree with this demonstrably bad approach.

Bill Lalor is the chairman of the Wilton Republican Town Committee.