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March 18, 2013

Gov Malloy wants to kill off the Metro-North Commuter Council



Shortly after he came to office, I wrote something critical of newly elected Governor Malloy.  Nothing new there.  I’d certainly questioned Republican governors in years past, usually to little response.  But this time the reaction was different.
A Malloy confidant, a senior State Senator from Fairfield County, took me aside and threatened me.  Not physically, but legislatively.  “You know, we could eliminate the Commuter Rail Council if you keep this up,” he said in Machiavellian tones.  “Bring it on,” I said, half-shocked at this political threat.
Well, it took a couple of years (and more criticism), but the threat has come true.  The Governor has submitted a bill (HB 6363) that would wipe out the existing Metro-North Commuter Rail Council and its 15 members.  In its place, a new Council would be appointed and the Governor, not the members of the Council, would choose its Chairman.
Further, the new Commuter Council’s mandate would turn from investigation and advocacy on behalf of fellow commuters to a PR advisor to the CDOT.  While the current Council has the power to request information and is required to receive cooperation from any state or local agency, that power would be eliminated under Malloy’s bill.
The Commuter Council isn’t the only pro-transportation group affected by the bill.  The CT Public Transportation Commission would also be eliminated just as last year Malloy erased the  Transportation Strategy Board.
This obvious power-grab by the Governor has so far gone unchallenged in the legislature, buried in a 66-page Christmas tree of a bill.  If it becomes law, my 15+ years as a member of the Commuter Council (the last four as its Chairman) will be history.
But why is the Metro-North Commuter Council singled out for such harsh treatment?
It’s not that the Commuter Council has been wasting state money.  We operate on a budget of zero dollars, even dipping into our own pockets to pay for design of a logo and pay for postage.  And I don’t think it can be argued that we haven’t been doing our jobs… meeting monthly with Metro-North and the CDOT to address commuter complaints and push for ever better service.
No, I think the real problem is that we’ve done our job too well, calling out CDOT, the legislature and yes, even the Governor, when they did things that we felt screwed commuters.  That’s our mandate.
I guess Governor Malloy didn’t like it when we pointed out that as a gubernatorial candidate he promised to never raid the Special Transportation Fund to balance the state’s budget, but then did just that when he took office.  And I guess he wasn’t happy when I noted that his budget took new fare increases from Metro-North riders but didn’t spend the money on trains, in effect making the fare hike a “commuter tax”.
And I’d imagine the Commissioner of the CDOT… the fifth Commissioner in my 15+ years on the Council… would be happy to see the current Council gone, critical as we have been about their Stamford Garage project which we see as selling out the interests of commuters to private developers.
It’s sad that the Governor feels the way to answer legitimate criticism is to eviscerate those who question him.  But I can promise you that his proposed elimination of the Metro-North Commuter Council won’t silence me.  Bring it on, Governor.

1 comment:

nixones said...

I recently read your article "Highway sound barriers are a waste of money and selfish." I then came across your site and this interesting article. This is just one of many things wrong with Connecticut's DOT administration. I frequently travel many different states and always end up saying to myself "why doesn't Connecticut do this?" From the type of asphalt used, to the landscaping, to the paint on the roads, the street lamps, signage, traffic flow, lane patterns, etc. everything just looks and works better elsewhere. I'm not saying the grass is always greener on the other side, but having lived elsewhere and come home to Connecticut, why does our state have so many problems? Even in New York which has the same weather and climate as us, they use a different material on the roads - is it a cement/stone mix? - that's ultra smooth to drive on, works and looks a heck of alot better than our super black asphalt that constantly cracks and needs repaving every few years. Not to mention our rail system that has new trains from Japan that look like railcars used in Europe in the 70s and a million dollar transit line that uses buses instead of trains on an old railway... that isn't progress, it's going backwards. Or the New Haven to Springfield line that's going to siphon away the smart growth economic development potential from the virtually abandoned (by the state, not commuters) Waterbury line stations and towns which are geographically closer to New York, are better suited for smart growth, and need the development more. Everything done by the Connecticut DOT is behind the times and with blinders on. We should send them - without pay - on a bus tour to other states, maybe they'll come home with some fresh, new, and better ideas!