Kennedy: “The Lock Box has Never Been Locked”

Harry Droz PhotoWednesday is the “Opening Day” of the joint session of the Connecticut General Assembly’s 2018 legislative session and, State Sen. Ted Kennedy, Jr. has ready a set of environmental and health bills he says are essential to preserving Connecticut in the age of Trump.

Kennedy, co-chairman of the General Assembly’s Environment Committee, gave the broad outlines of his environmental and health priorities in a 50-minute radio interview on WNHH FM’s “Legal Eagle” program.

Kennedy, Jr. represents the 12th State Senate District, which includes Branford, Guilford, North Branford, Madison, Durham, and Killingworth. Kennedy first won election to the Senate in December 2014. He decided against running for governor this year; it is likely he will seek reelection to his Senate seat in 2018. He has not yet announced his plans.

“It is no surprise to your listeners that government finance and budget issues will be the key issues that really will dominate the next session. We know that the state of Connecticut is in trouble financially and that we passed the budget a number of months late.”

He said working together is essential in the upcoming session. It can be done, he observed, noting that over 90 percent of bills passed last year were bi-bipartisan in nature. He said his environment committee approaches issues in a collaborative way and it was time to do the same with the budget.

On Board for Tolls

He is in favor of tolls for Connecticut’s state roads since the state now has none. He supports congestion tolls, a system that charges drivers more during peak hours and less during off-peak hours. Kennedy said that state could obtain between $800 and $900 million a year in toll revenue. “Every state along the way from here to Washington, D.C., has them. We are talking about electronic tolls. You don’t slow down. It is done electronically. A lot of states are addressing their crumbling infrastructure that they drive on this way. ” Connecticut, he said, needs to do so, too.

There is a caveat, he said: Connecticut can no longer tells its residents that money is going toward a specific need and then divert it in the wee hours of the legislative session.

“We have a track record,” he said, “of promising funds will be used for health or education or other issues.” But, he added, “the lock box has never been locked” and what has happened in the past is that these funds wind up in the general fund. 

He said he will support a constitutional amendment for the 2018 ballot to prevent funds from being diverted.  “If you are going to impose tolls, that money goes into a lock box that stays locked,” he said. ” A constitutional amendment is needed, he added.

Sea Level Rise by 2050

Kennedy said he will focus his energy on environmental and public health issues especially since the Trump administration has detached from prior environmental and health commitments. He called Scott Pruitt, the federal Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “the most anti-environmental administrator we have ever had.

“I am shocked and horrified by the changes going on at the EPA in Washington. These are people in the coal industry, and they are making the rules. The fox is guarding the hen house. The hard-fought protections for clean air and water are being watered down, no pun intended,” he said.
He noted that a lot “of the money we get flows through the federal government. We have 120 miles of seashore in Connecticut where people swim and fish in those waters. My goal now is to try to hold the line until we get to the end of this administration in Washington, D.C.”

He said a major issue facing Connecticut’s environment is the key issues is the issue of climate change. He said Rob Klee, commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP),“recently came out with the startling news that the sea level of Long Island Sound will rise between 18 and 20 inches by the year 2050.”

Kennedy said that was a consensus based on the best information available, putting it into a model and making projections. “That has a huge impact for people, on everyone listening to the show. It has a huge impact on coastal communities, for a city like New Haven or in my district of towns located along the coast. What are the implications for sea level rise on infrastructure, for those who live near the water? We need to think seriously about how we plan for that eventuality.”

 

Click on the above audio file or the Facebook Live video below to listen to the full episode of WNHH FM’s “Legal Eagle” with Ted Kennedy Jr.

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posted by: Bill Horne on February 5, 2018  4:57pm

I have two comments. 
First, the Legislature has repeatedly “swept” fees and taxes that were initially earmarked for specific uses (for example, supporting increased energy efficiency and renewable energy, funding preservation of open space, farmland and historic structures and affordable housing in addition to transportation infrastructure funding) into the General Fund, often with damaging effects on the general well being of Connecticut residents. If it takes a constitutional amendment to stop the practice, I’ll certainly support it, but I wonder if Legislators who voted for such “sweeps” will support passing an amendment that would tie their hands in the future.
Second, electronic tolls are a more equitable way to raise the money needed for maintaining and improving the state’s transportation infrastructure from the people who drive on the state’s highways.  The gasoline tax collects very little money from the many residents of other states who fill our highways in the summer on their way to other New England states and back again, and the tax collected from Connecticut residents who buy gas in the state is increasingly paid by people who drive older, less efficient vehicles. This inequity will increase as more people trade up to electric and plug-in hybrid cars and small trucks.  (It’s predicted that 15-20% of all new cars purchased by the mid 2020s will be electric or plug-in hybrids.)  It’s only fair that the people who use the roads pay a share that’s more in keeping with the distance that they drive on the roads.

posted by: JCFremont on February 8, 2018  8:57am

Yes Bill, people buy and drive less efficient older cars because the prices have come down and most often because that is all they can afford. Sure they could “invest” in a Prius or Telsa but well you know those pesky rent and other bills keep coming. The tax credit and dopey gimmicks like New Haven’s free parking for EV cars, benefited who and probably had little to do with their decision to go fuel efficient, the high price of gas did and all that did was help drive the price down. Other gimmicks like charging stations and designated parking spaces closest to an entrance, hey if your so into a healthy environment, walk a little further. Tolls are coming but will the gas tax come down? doubt it.