Paying for the $100 billion wish list
There is no question that Governor Malloy’s proposed $100 billion transportation plan for our state is, as he puts it, “bold.” The question is, is it achievable? When asked which projects are important and should be prioritized, he insists it’s “all of them.”
Really? Is turning little Oxford Airport into an international terminal, just 58 miles from Bradley, as important as fixing Metro-North? Can we really spend $780 million on bike and pedestrian thoroughfares when we don’t have money to repair crucial bridges on the New Haven line? And is spending $1.6 billion to widen I-95 from Stamford to the NY state line even necessary?
The problem is, the Governor’s plan isn’t a plan. It’s a wish list, with something for everyone in the state. His “plan” is a political wish-list of unknown origin. Nobody has vetted these projects to say what makes sense and what doesn’t. Nor has the Governor offered any ideas on how to pay for them. Instead he’s created a panel of experts tasked with coming up with those answers by the end of this summer, an unenviable task indeed.
As my Daddy taught me, “there is no free lunch.” And there is no way to pay for any of these projects without significant pain. A $100 billion plan would cost each man, woman and child in this state $27,800 to pay for it. Even spread over 50 years, that’s $556 per person per year. Are you in?
Even the Governor admits that highway tolls wouldn’t be enough, covering only one-third of the total cost. And we know how popular tolling is. So where else do we get the money?
Among the alternatives … a sales tax increase, higher gas taxes and real estate transfer fees. Anything on that list to your liking so far?
How about “privatization”, in effect selling off state-owned roads and bridges to private companies, allowing them to charge whatever they’d like to use them. Is it just by chance that this alternative is being floated by former Malloy campaign manager and top aide Roy Occhiogrosso who just happens to now be working for a firm, HNTB Corp, that specializes in such deals? What does Mr. Occhiogrosso know about the Governor’s plans that we don’t, but should?
Privatization has been tried before. In 2006 cash-strapped Indiana sold its 50-year-old East West Toll Road (“The Main Street of the Midwest”) to an Australian–Spanish conglomerate, netting the state $3.8 billion in return for the right to run the crucial highway for 75 years. (PS: Goldman Sachs earned a reported $200 million for brokering the deal.) In the first year of operations, tolls almost doubled. Surprised?
Let’s face it: Governor Malloy is very shrewd. He gets to look like Santa Claus, dolling out transportation goodies across the state but will be able to blame his financing strategy team for assigning the costs. This entire debate warrants very close scrutiny because, whatever its outcome, we will all be paying for it for many years.
Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien RTM. The opinions expressed in this column are only his own. You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com.