Can CT rely on the ‘lockbox’?

September 10, 2018

(Please read and share the excellent Waterbury Republican-American Editorial attached below and send me your comments at [email protected] – thank you!)

Can state rely on ‘lockbox’?

(Waterbury Republican-American Editorial)

In November, Connecticut residents will vote on whether to amend the state constitution, so as to protect the Special Transportation Fund (STF).

A Sept. 2 Sunday Republican story indicated there are questions as to “whether it is legally possible to prohibit future governors and legislatures from changing state law to grab funds earmarked for the transportation fund.”

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ned Lamont supports the amendment, while Republican nominee Bob Stefanowski doubts it would prove effective.

Even if legal history is on the amendment’s side, it is hard to imagine the amendment serving its purpose, at least in the short term.

The STF was created in 1984 by Gov. William A. O’Neill and the legislature. It was designed to ensure adequate funding for transportation projects, so as to avoid repeats of the tragic 1983 Mianus River Bridge collapse. The fund long has been financed via fuel taxes and fees.

Unfortunately, Connecticut politicians long have used the STF to support their notorious spending habit.

Since the late 1980s, when Mr. O’Neill still occupied the governor’s office, governors and lawmakers consistently have spent STF dollars elsewhere in the budget, as the Republican-American reported last Dec. 21.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has an especially interesting history with the STF. During his successful 2010 campaign, he criticized past state officials for their treatment of the fund.

Yet as the Connecticut Mirror noted in a memorable Sept. 29, 2014 story, Gov. Malloy signed budgets for fiscal years 2013-14 and 2014-15 that raided the STF to the tunes of $91 million and $20 million, respectively. While these raids were smaller than those of the past, they nonetheless were egregious, in light of the governor’s campaign talk.

To be sure, Gov. Malloy signed 2013 legislation to ban future transfers of funds.

In 2015, he and lawmakers approved legislation dedicating a portion of sales-tax receipts to the STF.

Yet Senate Republicans recently estimated that between 2015 and 2017, $87.5 million in sales-tax revenues that should have been sent to the STF were used for other purposes. 

These budgets primarily were designed by Gov. Malloy and Democratic legislators.

Gov. Malloy began advocating an STF amendment shortly after he began his second term in January 2015, and he remains supportive of the concept.

“The constitutional lockbox is a critical step not just toward ensuring that money collected for transportation is actually spent exclusively on transportation but also an important milestone in reversing decades of neglect to our state’s infrastructure needs,” he recently told Governing magazine.

These are nice words, but there is good reason to believe Capitol policymakers would find a way around the amendment.

Their addiction to spending simply is too potent, a concept further illustrated by Gov. Malloy’s and lawmakers’ maneuver this spring to spend certain income-tax receipts state law had designated for the rainy day fund.

No, unless and until Connecticut’s “leaders” get serious about controlling spending, i.e. doing something about state government’s formidable personnel costs, all the constitutional amendments and statutes in the world won’t ensure the availability of transportation funds.