September 1, 2014

CT should outlaw transportation fund raids

If you're looking for one issue that seems to be bringing together candidates from all political stripes this election season, it's transportation infrastructure spending.

Most Democrats, Republicans, businesses, and unions, among other special interests, agree the state needs to invest more in its roads, bridges, and highways.

That's why a state constitutional amendment that restricts lawmakers from raiding Connecticut's special transportation fund to help fill state budget gaps is a good idea.

The concept was tossed around at a press conference recently held by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy near the Old Main Street Bridge in Rocky Hill, where the Democrat boasted about his administration's increased infrastructure spending, which he said has surpassed any previous governor.

But Republicans, led by gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley, have criticized Malloy for not allocating the full amount of the state's gas receipts tax to transportation. It's a budgetary tactic that has become a time-honored tradition in the Connecticut state legislature. Since 2005, the state has spent half of the $2.6 billion raised by wholesale fuel taxes on non-transportation programs. It's a gimmick that must end if the state is going to make the necessary investments to build and maintain a 21st century transportation system.

With about $5.4 billion in unfunded highway and bridge projects and nearly 10 percent of Connecticut's 4,218 bridges deemed structurally deficient, the stakes are high. A safe and reliable transportation system is a key factor companies and industries consider when choosing where to do business.

Politically, it will always be more attractive to raid the special transportation fund to smooth over budget deficits when the alternative could mean cutting government services or raising taxes. Let's hold politicians' feet to the fire and take that option off the table.

Kudos to Counihan

Implementing the federal healthcare reform law brought about many challenges, but few proved to be as difficult as the requirement forcing states and/or the federal government to set up online insurance exchanges, where individuals and small businesses could shop for insurance coverage.

We all remember the federal government's embarrassing rollout of, which was haunted by technological glitches that took months and millions of dollars to rectify. States that created their own exchanges also ran into trouble. Oregon, for example, fired its insurance exchange director, and many of his top lieutenants, in March after the state spent $200 million on technology that didn't work.

The insurance exchanges became lighting rods for political acrimony.

That's why Kevin Counihan deserves credit for the work he did in Connecticut. Last week, Counihan, who became CEO of the Connecticut online insurance marketplace Access Health CT in 2012, announced he was leaving to run the federal exchange.

The promotion is well-deserved. Counhian had to build an agency and oversee the creation, implementation, and rollout of the state's online insurance marketplace on an extremely aggressive one-year timetable. He proved to be a competent leader, who helped Connecticut's exchange stand out from the rest of the country.

Access Health CT avoided most of the technological glitches felt by the federal government and signed up more than 250,000 people for health insurance, far surpassing its original projection of 100,000 enrollees. Access Health has been recognized nationally by organizations like the Kaiser Family Foundation for its sound enrollment and marketing strategies, which included opening storefronts to raise awareness.

Whether you agree or disagree with the tenants of federal healthcare reform, it's hard to argue that Counihan and his team did anything but successfully deliver for the state. Let's hope his successor can carry forward that progress.

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