March 14, 2018

Malloy: Traffic gridlock killing NY-CT job migration

Twitter | @CBIANews
Twitter | @CBIANews
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who leaves office at year's end, tried to sell a business audience on the need to raise and invest billions in transportation over the next several decades.

Business owners and executives, who have mixed feelings about the push for Connecticut highway tolls, received a hard sell from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Wednesday morning.

During his final visit as governor to the Connecticut Business & Industry Association's annual business day event at the Capitol, Malloy talked up Connecticut's investments in companies and job creation during his tenure, as well as the state's growth in manufacturing jobs in 2017.

But he soon transitioned to tolls, saying Connecticut needs to raise additional revenue to support roads and bridge projects, charging that anyone who claims the state can fix its transportation system without doing so "is simply lying to you."

Part of the reason Connecticut gets unfavorable comparisons to places like Boston and New York, the governor said, is that those cities have invested billions in major infrastructure projects. Meanwhile, he called Connecticut's Wilbur Cross Highway "a museum" and I-95 a "parking lot."

Malloy quipped, as he has several times recently, that if legislators are skeptical about implementing tolls, they should meet in Stamford instead of Hartford.

"That sounds like a joke, but if we can't get there, and if people who want to get out of New York can't get to Connecticut, then the jobs funnel that has long existed in Connecticut for the past 65 years does not produce the jobs that we need to see," he said.

Malloy said it used to be more common for companies that moved to Fairfield County to eventually expand out into other parts of the state.

"But that's stopped largely," he said.

Modernizing the state's roads could take 20 or 30 years, he warned. He also said many lawmakers are thinking about the next election and aren't interested in that kind of long-term investment.
During a Q&A with CBIA's audience, Christine Mansfield, CEO of Wallingford's Discovery Training Services, told Malloy she understands the need to generate transportation revenue, but worries about protecting employees from higher travel costs. She said some could be crippled by tolls.

"Quite honestly it's scaring our business community," she said.

CBIA has not officially issued a position on tolls.

"I think these are hard questions," Malloy acknowledged.

He noted that 30 percent of the vehicles on the state's roads are from out of state, and are therefore not contributing any revenue.

Malloy also said he supports giving partial tax credits to Connecticut residents for what they pay in tolls.

"It doesn't mean you should not pay for some portion of it, but you should get a very substantial credit," he said.

Praise for CEO-led commission

One of Malloy's tolling allies is the Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth, which made adopting tolls one of its many recommendations in a recently released report to the legislature.

Malloy said he liked a number of the commission's recommendations. The group was co-chaired by former Webster Bank CEO James Smith and former Women's Health USA CEO Robert Patricelli (who presented their ideas to CBIA after Malloy spoke Wednesday).

"Listen, I think it's a great report," he said. "I think they have said things that I have tried to say. They're just smarter, and you're more inclined to listen to them."

Malloy said he agrees with the commission on the need to broaden the tax base (the commission has recommended tolls, a higher sales tax and a payroll tax on companies).

"You may not agree with everyone of those recommendations and I may not agree with every one of those recommendations, but the body of work points us in the right direction on a long-term basis," he said.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities this week fully endorsed the report's recommendations, though there is some risk that implementing the package would imperil local aid.

The report also calls for reforming the state's laws governing binding arbitration between government and union workers.

An attendee from Waterbury, where Mayor Neil O'Leary has supported changing arbitration rules to the benefit of municipalities, asked Malloy today for his thoughts on the idea.

The governor said he believes that some municipalities have ended up with "bad and misguided agreements."

He supports using a single arbitrator instead of a panel, and changing how arbitrators are selected, but he stopped short of endorsing the commission's recommendation.

"On the other hand, I don't think you can interrupt the sanctity or the importance of labor- management relations, and if you're going to change it, you need to make sure it's going to work," he said.

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