Hands off money for rail fixes [Connecticut Post]

March 6, 2014

Article as it appeared in the Connecticut Post

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Connecticut lawmakers should reconsider their propensity over the years to short-change the fund established in 1983 to fund transportation systems in the state.

And that’s what’s happened, even as the criticize the Metro-North rail line for its escalating safety failure rate.

An analysis by Hearst Connecticut Media of past voting by state lawmakers on budgets that cut the state’s Special Transportation Fund (STF) to pay routine expenses and cover deficits. even as the rail line’s needs were building toward calamity, is discouraging.

More than half of the region’s lawmakers voted for budgets, including some put forward by former Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, and by Malloy, that reduced the amount of money that was supposed to go into the STF.

To their credit, 52 of the region’s lawmakers last year voted in favor of establishing a lockbox system under which the STF would be inviolate.

As articulated by state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, who voted against the last two Malloy biennial budgets, there’s concern that the legislature might repeal the lockbox restriction when faced with future crises.

It took collapse of the Mianus River Bridge during the administration of Gov. William O’Neill in 1983 to spark creation of the STF. Two separate gasoline taxes generate the fund’s income. The first is a flat tax of 25 cents per gallon paid by drivers at the pump. The second is a petroleum gross receipts tax, which is a tax on the wholesale price of gas paid by distributors.

The rail line is in crisis and is flirting with disaster. On the Hudson Line in New York State, four people died and more than 60 were injured in a derailment in December and a collision on the Bridgeport-Fairfield line in sent 73 passengers, two engineers and a conductor to area hospitals.

Understandably, the heat is on Metro-North to clean up its act. Joseph Giulietti, who took over as Metro-North’s new president last month, has put a new emphasis on safety, creating a board-level safety officer position. He this week issued a 100-day plan for improvements on the line.

The hundred-day plan drew criticism from Malloy. Malloy may have had some good points, but the larger point is stop diverting money from the fund that was created specifically to make sure that transportation systems in the state have the financial support they need.

It was 31 years ago that a fatal infrastructure failure forced creation of the STF. Let’s not wait for another fatal calamity to convince governors and lawmakers that the money in the STF should be spent to prevent just such a tragedy, not as a slush fund for temporary fixes.