Beware the Transportation Lockbox

March 22, 2016

By State Senator Joe Markley

I am in politics because my father was in business. I grew up prizing entrepreneurship, and understood early on how job creation could be stifled by nonsensical government meddling. The story of our founders inspired me, and my vision of liberty always included free enterprise, that economic principle which made our great nation strong and prosperous.

I saw and still see both freedom and growth curtailed by burdensome taxation and regulation imposed by big government. Passage of the state income tax in 1991 precipitated our decline. That was a crossroads, and we’ve suffered since for the bad choice, with the steady growth of government spending, the attendant tax hikes, and the consequent exodus of job creators large and small. Since the income tax took effect twenty-four years ago, our state has ranked dead last in economic growth, while the increase in government spending has averaged over seven percent a year.

We’re at another crossroads now, and in much worse shape. After two huge tax increases in four years, we face the largest shortfall yet: nearly four billion dollars in the 2017-18 budget. I expect no serious steps will be taken in the current session to address this impending disaster, which means the pressure to raise taxes again next year will be tremendous.

Another enormous tax hike to cover that staggering deficit, coupled with an additional $2 billion in new taxes and tolls to finance transportation projects, could finish us off economically. We simply can’t afford it, regardless of the guarantees of future fiscal responsibility that come with it.

The promise in 1991 was a constitutional amendment to control spending. For that false surety, and to keep their place at the much-coveted capitol ‘table,’ the Connecticut Business and Industry Association and other ostensibly pro-growth groups supported the state income tax, and even spent their members’ dues to promote it.

I don’t want to see us make that mistake again, falling for a promise instead of forging a new way. The people of Connecticut and their free market legislative allies should stand together against any further tax hikes, including the huge gas tax increase and the statewide tolls proposed by Malloy’s transportation commission.

This year’s magic constitutional cure-all is the laughable ‘lockbox,’ which we’re told would put new transportation money where politicians can’t get at it. No such refuge exists: the lockbox is a Trojan Horse, and passing it will open the door to big new taxes. Republicans have offered a plan that provides the same resources for rebuilding our transportation infrastructure without new taxes, by reducing and redirecting bonding. Clearly that’s the plan business leaders should get behind.

Remember this: the constitutional spending cap amendment that voters approved overwhelmingly in 1992 still awaits implementation. Why would anyone expect a legislature which won’t follow that public mandate to enforce a new rule limiting its own power to tax and spend?

There’s one line worth drawing in state politics, in my opinion: we must not ask for one penny more in taxes. Government needs to live within its means, right now. Our problem isn’t revenue but spending, and we need people in office who are willing to face facts, not peddle phony measures that give a false and dangerous sense of security.