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November 18, 2018

"Getting There" - An Open Letter to the Governor-Elect

Well, you did it.  Congratulations on your election.  And my condolences.  The easy part of politics is over:  getting elected.  Now comes the hard part:  being Governor.

I hope you and your transition team are already working on that budget that’s due in three months.  There’s a lot of red ink ($4 billion) that needs to be mopped up.  And don’t forget those $80 billion in unfunded pensions.  But I’m sure you’ve got the solutions, right?    That’s what you promised voters, anyhow.  So have at it.

But as you are cutting and slashing, may I be so bold as to make a few suggestions on the transportation front?  Your campaign assured us you’d fix our roads and rails, so I’m sure you have your ideas.  But let’s see if these are of any help.

1)    KEEP YOUR COMMISSIONER:   Jim Redeker has been CDOT Commissioner since 2011 and nobody knows better what’s working and what isn’t.  He’s clearly the smartest guy in the room and you need his experience and talents.  Let’s not lose him to another state.

2)    FIX THE TRAINS FIRST:  You can’t keep high wage earners (and tax payers) living in Connecticut if Metro-North continues its downward slide.  Getting trains back up to speed and on-time is crucial to the state’s economy.

3)    THEN IMPROVE BUS SERVICE:          I hope you realize that the CTFastrak bus rapid-transit system is hugely important and not the “waste of money” your opponent claimed.  Not everyone in this state owns a car.  For the 15 million riders of that busway since it opened, those buses mean being able to get to their jobs.  That is what we want, right… people working?

4)    RIDE MASS TRANSIT:     You campaigned at train and bus stations, now why not get onboard?  Set an example by taking the train from Greenwich to Hartford and riding the bus with your constituents.  See the conditions first hand.

5)    GET GOING WITH TOLLS:         We both know they’re inevitable, despite your opponents’ “tolls are a tax” lie during the campaign.  Let’s stop losing revenue to out-of-staters and truckers and make them pay for driving on our roads.  Start with tolling trucks, though I doubt that’s legal.

6)    HONOR THE LOCKBOX:            Voters have spoken loudly!  The Special Transportation Fund is now padlocked.  Don’t you dare think about picking that lock or letting the Legislature touch those funds for anything but transportation.

7)    PLEASE BE HONEST:      You and your opponents glossed over the tough issues in the campaign, making vague, general comments about improving our lives.  You got the job, so now don’t give us any BS.  Tell us about the hard choices to come.  Embrace the FOI act.  Be open and transparent… and honest.  We’re adults.  We can take it.

8)    DON’T ABUSE THE MAJORITY:     Once again the Democrats are in full control in Hartford.  That’s a lot of power in a few hands and your party’s record on “reaching across the aisle” isn’t great.  Our problems can only be solved with bi-partisan cooperation, so please set the best example.

That’s enough for now.  Get some rest, maybe even a vacation, and we’ll talk again in the coming months.

Best wishes,
Jim Cameron
“The Train Guy”

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media

November 11, 2018

"Getting There" - The Lockbox Question

Perfection is the enemy of good, said Voltaire.  Life is a series of compromises and waiting for “perfect” is like standing still.  You’ll never get anywhere.

So it is this election season.

The convention and primary season has delivered us a short list of flawed candidates pandering platitudes of perfection to a weary, cynical electorate.  It’s enough to make you decide to not vote, lest you encourage and enable this behavior.

But forget about the gubernatorial choices.  It’s your State Representative and State Senator that will be crafting the laws, so pay them heed.  Those are the races that really count, so in the waning days of the campaign, go to the debates, read the candidates’ platforms, study the issues and editorials.

Ask for specifics, not generalities.  If they say they want to improve train service, ask how and paid for with what.  The devil’s in the details and I, for one, am tired of vague generalities that get people elected and then see them do nothing. 

And don’t forget to turn over your ballot.  That’s where the single most important thing you can do to fix transportation will be found:  the Lockbox Referendum question.

It will be labeled as “Question One”, a proposed amendment to the state constitution.  And if you read it, you’ll see no mention of the word “lockbox”.  But that’s what it is about:  putting money for transportation in a special place where it can only be spent on that intended purpose… transportation.

Until now the state’s Special Transportation Fund has been a sieve, raided by Democrats and Republicans alike, to balance the state’s budget.  This measure would help stop that.

To make it onto the November ballot, Question One was approved on a bipartisan basis by two legislative sessions.  By making it a constitutional amendment instead of a law, it will be harder to circumvent, but not impossible.

This Lockbox question is not perfect.  It has loopholes.  But if it passes, doom on any lawmaker or Governor who tries to avoid voters’ clear intent:  to keep money for transportation spent on just that.

The “Vote Yes on Question One” coalition has wide support, especially from commuters who are tired of seeing our state’s bridges crumble and near-constant delays on standing-room-only trains.  Even if you don’t ride our trains or buses, you should care about this issue.  It’s your tax dollars (gasoline taxes especially) that have been misspent to the tune of $500 million in the past decade.

But suddenly, Republicans are wavering in their support of this Lockbox, though they initially proposed it.  They say it’s not good enough, that it should be tighter and have stronger constraints both on funding and spending.

I might agree.  But the November ballot question is what it is.  It cannot be changed until the next legislative session.  If anyone thinks the lockbox should be stronger, make it so… but only after this version is made law.

Question One’s proposal is not perfect.  But to reject is to maintain the status quo, leaving transportation funding subject to misappropriation as in decades past.  That’s why I’m voting yes on Question One.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media