October 5, 2011

Taxpayers union says hit brakes on Busway

Letter issued by the National Taxpayers Union this week after its officials met with state Rep. Whit Betts, a Bristol Republican, and state Sen. Joe Markley, a Southington Republican. The pair talked to the organization during an anti-busway lobbying trip to the nation's capital:

Dear Senator Markley and Representative Betts:
I am grateful for the opportunity to have met with you yesterday and to have discussed your reservations over a project to construct a busway from New Britain to Hartford. This undertaking, which involves federal as well as state tax dollars, would affect the National Taxpayers Union’s (NTU) 362,000 members nationwide and particularly its 4,600-plus members in Connecticut.
As you know, NTU and its members seek infrastructure policies that emphasize serving the greatest number of consumers efficiently, involving the private sector to the maximum extent possible, reducing the risk of long-term taxpayer liabilities, allocating finite resources effectively, and exercising strenuous fiscal oversight. While such principles would seem obvious prerequisites to any capital project, in our 42-year institutional experience their application has been far from universal.
In fact, academic analyses have identified disturbing patterns here and abroad in such projects that often lead to cost overruns. Last month, Veronique de Rugy and Matthew Mitchell of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University provided an excellent synopsis of such research in a working paper entitled, “Would More Infrastructure Spending Stimulate the Economy?”. Among the works they cited was a seminal 2002 review of 258 transportation projects worldwide, appearing in the Journal of the American Planning Association. This study determined that costs were underestimated in nearly 90 percent of the cases examined. The working paper by de Rugy and Mitchell also cast doubt on whether claims of massive “multiplier effects” from infrastructure stimulus – especially in countries with fiscal and economic profiles like that of the U.S. – are sufficiently reliable. Such a conclusion has direct bearing on contentions from busway proponents that the expenditure will deliver large windfalls to the state’s economy.
This is but one reason why NTU has long asserted that public officials have a special obligation to carefully study the potential outcome of such programs. Connecticut’s tenuous financial situation, even after enactment of onerous tax increases on its citizens, is yet another recommendation for caution on many kinds of expenditures involving multi-year commitments. Finally, you have brought to our attention several details of the busway project that could be of concern to taxpayers, including: a cost estimate of nearly $600 million for a route spanning barely more than nine miles, controversy over its benefits to the economy and the surrounding communities, and questions about whether less expensive alternatives have been adequately explored.
Regarding the latter point, some have suggested that passenger rail would be a more frugal approach to transit in the New Britain-Hartford area. To be clear, NTU is not taking a stance in favor of any particular option mentioned in the current public debate. We simply believe that all the foregoing circumstances merit greater deliberation, especially before significant federal taxpayer money begins to flow. This is a matter of urgency with the busway since, according to information you have supplied, major federal resources will begin to enter the picture four weeks from now.
Thus, in our opinion a prudent action would be a pause in the funding process, pending timely and comprehensive additional review of the busway’s ramifications. While the project’s advocates would question the feasibility of such a pause or raise the prospect of harm from more delay, the potential risks to the taxpayers of Connecticut and the nation deserve further consideration.
Pete Sepp
Executive Vice President

Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

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