Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman once famously noted, "If you put the government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years there'd be a shortage of sand."
Here in Connecticut, Friedman's comments can be applied to transportation funding.
Think of state transportation dollars as a garden hose with several holes in it. You can turn on the water full blast to address the problem, but the leaks are so numerous that you can't effectively address the problem.
In the past four years, nearly $190 million which was supposed to go toward fixing our roads, bridges and rail system never arrived at its destination. Your money was diverted. It instead went toward keeping the state budget in balance.
Now, it seems like every day we hear about the transportation crisis we have "suddenly" found ourselves in. For example:
The 118-year-old Norwalk River bridge, which is at the end of several useful lives, repeatedly fails to function properly and prompts calls for more federal dollars to fix it.
Connecticut's highest-in-the-land gas tax is apparently not high enough for some. There are calls to raise the federal gas tax by 10 cents.
The drumbeat for putting tolls on I-84 and I-95 is getting louder and louder.
Wouldn't it be nice if we first made it a priority to stop raiding the state's Special Transportation Fund? Rather than immediately looking to tax, toll and spend our way out of the problem, shouldn't we first look at a major source of the problem, which is the diversion of transportation fees to non-transportation accounts?
Funding transportation infrastructure, education and the social safety net are all core governmental functions. Buying tennis tournaments, overpaying for parking garages, subsidizing sports teams and paying the costs for profitable corporations to move from one Connecticut town to another are most definitely not core functions of government. Still, we have seen examples of those ill-advised and misguided investments in the past year alone.
This year as well as years before, I backed a legislative measure which would have essentially put a lock box on state transportation funding. Unfortunately, that proposal did not pass, but I will continue to build support for that common-sense idea. Yes, we need transportation infrastructure investments, but it is not fair to any of us when transportation dollars are used for non-transportation purposes. It is wrong to raid this money -- your money. Let's agree that the state legislature and the governor should stop making that same mistake year after year.
I'll bet many of you can think of some very worthy area transportation projects to spend $190 million on. What would you have done with the money? I'd like to hear from you. Contact me at Toni.Boucher@cga.ct.gov or at 800-842-1421. On the Web: www.senatorboucher.com.
Sen. Boucher represents Bethel, New Canaan, Redding, Ridgefield, Weston, Westport and Wilton.