Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic

With each passing day, the estimate of the size of the State of Connecticut deficit for this year, and some already spooky projections for the next fiscal year, have been growing. Those who usually spend more time scrutinizing the menu where you place the drive-through order by shouting into the clown's head are starting to pay a lot more attention to the folks they elected back in November (now known as 'the last of the good old days') and what those people are up to as they work with the Governor and one another to lower our dependence on the nanny-state while flattening, we hope, some of the high cost of government.

By visiting here, and doing some digging, I've discovered one of the earliest legislative forays by one of those newcomers we selected in November, Representative Chris Coutu, whose campaign was All About the Benjamins and concerns about the lack thereof in state coffers, has joined with a plethora (my homage to a meeting in Norwich I went to last week) of legislators in both chambers to (wait for it) revive the tradition of free Labor Day weekend coffee stops on Interstate 95 in Waterford, as operated by the local Boy Scouts Troop.

Two years ago (?) the Connecticut Department of Transportation, citing a plethora (once you get started it's hard to stop!) of safety concerns came up with new rules to standardize how service organizations (like my daughter's high school (NFA) marching band which ran one of these coffee stops up on 95 beyond Stonington for all the years she was in it) can use the rest stops and weigh stations during fundraisers. The coffee, crullers, soda and what-have-you never cost anything, though donations were appreciated and guilt is a powerful persuader. The CONNDOT rules prohibited organizations from operating 24-hours non-stop at the facilities, meaning they had to break down and close at a stipulated time (you know, during the middle of the night when no one is using I-95) and then reopen and re-erect the tent, et al, the following morning when all the car and truck drivers get back on the highway.

As you might imagine, you can't swing a cat and NOT hit an Eastern Connecticut legislator who doesn't think this is the greatest idea in Hartford since they made June National Inland Wetlands and Web-Footed Watercraft Month last year. The co-sponsors and prospective co-sponsors include State Senators Eileen Daily, Andrew Maynard, Edith Prague and Andrea Stillman and joining Representative Coutu, colleagues such as Representatives Ed Jutila, Steven Mikutel, Thomas Moukawsher, Melissa Olson, Elizabeth Ritter, Kevin Ryan, Diana Urban and Elissa Wright.

Because the State's website is good, not as good as Norwich's mind you but still slick, you can sign up to follow the progress of this (or any) bill. The miracle of democracy in your electronic in-basket--the stuff the Founding Fathers (and some of the Mothers) fought for, all those years ago. That whatever needed to be fixed about this issue (I am being charitable calling it that) could be done by the Governor talking to the Commissioner of the Department of Transportation, maybe something like "Hey Joe (Where You Goin' with that Cup in Your Hand)?" is lost in the noise. I'd call all of this churn masquerading as legislative intervention a tempest in a teapot but both tempest and teapot have retained legal counsel.

Besides, it's possible the good men and women we send to Hartford have realized there's NOTHING they can do about the state budget woes and are hoping maybe with a few more three day weekends and a lot more donation-operated rest stops, we can turn this budget frown upside down. Meanwhile, if they can just get the chairs bolted to the quarter deck, they won't keep falling into the dark and rolling sea.
-bill kenny

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