Malloy seeks to kill the Commuter Council

Shortly after he came to office, I wrote something critical of newly elected Gov. Malloy. Nothing new there. I’d certainly questioned Republican governors in years past, usually to little response. But this time the reaction was different.

A Malloy confidant, a senior state senator from Fairfield County, took me aside and threatened me. Not physically, but legislatively. “You know, we could eliminate the Commuter Rail Council if you keep this up,” he said in Machiavellian tones. “Bring it on,” I said, half-shocked at this political threat.

Well, it took a couple of years (and more criticism), but the threat has come true. The governor has submitted a bill (HB 6363) that would wipe out the existing Metro-North Commuter Rail Council and its 15 members. In its place, a new council would be appointed and the governor, not the members of the council, would choose its chairman.

Further, the new Commuter Council’s mandate would turn from investigation and advocacy on behalf of fellow commuters to a PR adviser to the CDOT. While the current council has the power to request information and is required to receive cooperation from any state or local agency, that power would be eliminated under Malloy’s bill.

The Commuter Council isn’t the only pro-transportation group affected by the bill. The CT Public Transportation Commission would also be eliminated, along with the last vestiges of the Transportation Strategy Board (killed off by Malloy last year) and the TIAs, or “Transportation Investment Areas.”

This obvious power grab by the governor has so far gone unchallenged in the legislature, buried in a 66-page Christmas tree of a bill. If it becomes law, my 15-plus years as a member of the Commuter Council (the last four as its chairman) will be history.

But why is the Metro-North Commuter Council singled out for such harsh treatment?

It’s not that the Commuter Council has been wasting state money. We operate on a budget of zero dollars, even dipping into our own pockets to pay for design of a logo and pay for postage. And I don’t think it can be argued that we haven’t been doing our jobs … meeting monthly with Metro-North and the CDOT to address commuter complaints and push for ever better service.

No, I think the real problem is that we’ve done our job too well, calling out CDOT, the legislature and, yes, even the governor, when they did things that we felt screwed commuters. That’s our mandate.

I guess Gov. Malloy didn’t like it when we pointed out that as a gubernatorial candidate he promised to never raid the Special Transportation Fund to balance the state’s budget, but then did just that when he took office. And I guess he wasn’t happy when I noted that his budget took new fare increases from Metro-North riders but didn’t spend the money on trains, in effect making the fare hike a “commuter tax.”

And I’d imagine the commissioner of the CDOT … the fifth commissioner in my 15-plus years on the council … would be happy to see the current council gone, critical as we have been about the Stamford garage project, which we see as selling out the interests of commuters to private developers.

It’s sad that the governor feels the way to answer legitimate criticism is to eviscerate those who question him. But I can promise you that his proposed elimination of the Metro-North Commuter Council won’t silence me. Bring it on, Governor.

 

Jim Cameron has been a commuter out of Darien for 22 years. He is chairman of the CT Metro-North/Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council, and a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA and the Darien RTM. You can reach him at [email protected] or trainweb.org/ct. For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see talkingtransportation.blogspot.com.

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