In Wilton: Senator Murphy talks MTA, student loans, the media

Acknowledging “rightful” nationwide paranoia about government deficits and spending, Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) told  the Wilton League of Women Voters and guests today, Oct. 2, there’s plenty of room for optimism in Washington, D.C. The League had its fall luncheon at Rolling Hills Country Club on Hurlbutt Street.

In fact, his whole talk carried one over-arching message; that more positive-thought is needed throughout the American electorate.

“I’ve got a two-year-old and a six-year-old, so I think constantly about the decisions we are going to pass down to our children,” Mr. Murphy said.

“In other countries, they are grappling with zero-growth, negative-growth, and one-percent growth while also struggling with massive national deficit. But, in the U.S. there has been regular and — at times — comparatively robust economic growth. We’re on pace this month for 4% growth in national GDP.”

With deficits down nearly $7 billion since the “height of the recession,” the senator said he, himself, is optimistic for the financial future of the country, and of Connecticut.

The first, and perhaps most pressing question Mr. Murphy faced was an overtly simple one:

“MTA?”

Though he had little to offer in the way of short-term solutions for the struggling Metro-North rail line, which is run by the Metropolitan Transit Authority, the senator said he has been lobbying strongly for the federal government to place a priority on funding “three or four” railroad bridges that currently limit the capacity of Metro-North in Connecticut.

Though the overall disrepair of Metro-North’s current lines have helped move these projects ahead — five years in some cases — a lack of federal transportation dollars means it’s a hard battle to fight, he said.

Drawing attention to a bi-partisan bill he proposed in the Senate which would increase the federal gas tax by 12 cents over two years, Mr. Murphy said transportation needed to become a priority.

“There’s just not enough money for roads and trains in this country,” he said, We spend $36 billion a year, but only take in $18 billion in gas taxes,” he said. “This plan is politically controversial, but until someone comes up with a better way, our idea is the only bi-partisan proposal on the table.”

College costs and student loans were also an important topic at Thursday’s meeting, with many in attendance questioning the senator on the topic.

In regards to a question about college loans and the high interest rates they carry, he was quick to note he is one of only two senators still paying off their own student loans while also saving for his children’s education.

“Colleges need to control costs, and provide a better product,” he said, calling for tougher federal standards on the kind of institutions that can receive Pell grants and other education subsidies.

For-profit schools that offer substandard, or undesirable skills are leaving 30% to 40% of their students unable to pay back their loans, he said, and should not be provided with federal funds.

“They need to prove they’re delivering a viable product,” the senator said.

A large problem with the nation’s generally negative view of Washington D.C., as the senator sees it, is that today’s constituents tend to receive their federal government information from the national media, rather than locally focused papers.

“When Senators Lieberman and Dodd were in office, there were 12 reporters in Washington just covering Connecticut,” Mr. Murphy said. “Today, there’s one, and that reporter doesn’t even work for the print media, they work for a website: The Connecticut Mirror.

“You just don’t get so much information about us anymore, so you have to default to the national news,” and the way it covers the senate.