Paying a surprise visit to the House Democratic caucus with news reporters in tow at the state Capitol last week, Gov. Ned Lamont made some observers uneasy by promising to raise campaign money for caucus members who will cast a difficult vote on the highway tolls he has proposed.
“We’re going to raise money for this caucus,” the governor said. “I’m going to have the business guys coming in. Labor’s going to be standing up for you, and I’m going to be standing up for you.”
While campaign money in exchange for legislative votes might sound like bribery, there was really nothing new in what the governor said. It was jarring only because such offers are seldom if ever made publicly and candidly by a high official.
But the great profit that stands to be made from tolls and the transportation projects they are supposed to underwrite is already clear, since construction companies and their labor unions are spending heavily on an advertising campaign supporting tolls.
Indeed, the whole government class will pitch in, since tolls are not entirely for transportation. They are just as much for establishing a new revenue stream large enough to eliminate the need to economize elsewhere in state government in favor of transportation.
The governor keeps saying opponents of tolls should specify their alternatives for financing transportation, but he already has rejected all of them, starting with the Republican legislative minority’s proposal to use the usual bonding and to stop diverting gasoline tax revenue to the general fund.
The governor has rejected all other alternatives to tolls by refusing to economize anywhere in his state budget.
The budget increases state government employee compensation, continues to give state employee pensions priority over all public needs, and increases “aid to local education,” the euphemism for raises for municipal teachers, though student test scores remain mediocre no matter how much teachers are paid.
Welfare and urban spending are to continue as usual though city demographics and living conditions keep declining.
What exactly did the governor mean by saying he would recruit “business guys” to raise campaign money for Democratic legislators? Did he mean only the construction company operators, or the business executives who lately have been clamoring for state government to raise taxes on themselves and other wealthy people?
Since enactment of the state income tax in 1991, Connecticut’s “business guys,” led by the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, have failed to oppose state government’s tax hunger.
As a result Connecticut is in a long economic decline. The state’s economy is actually smaller in real terms than it was a decade ago.
In any case the “business guys” don’t need higher tax rates if they want to enrich state government. They can always mail donations to the state treasurer as easily as they can mail donations to Democratic state legislative campaigns.
But since the government class is united in favor of what would be in effect another massive tax increase, contributions from the “business guys” probably won’t be necessary to unify Democratic legislators. For as H.L. Mencken wrote a century ago, “The typical lawmaker is a man devoid of principle — a mere counter in a grotesque and knavish game. If the right pressure could be applied to him, he would be cheerfully in favor of polygamy, astrology, or cannibalism.”