40 Years Ago, Transportation and Fiscal Austerity Highlighted Inauguration Day

On  inauguration day, Connecticut’s incoming Governor would be “commuting by train to the Capitol for the inauguration to dramatize the need for more mass transit,” local news media reported. The Governor-elect was Ella Grasso, and the year was 1975.  She took the train from her hometown of Windsor Locks into Hartford.

Four decades later, transportation will once again be center-stage on inauguration day, as Governor Dannel Malloy has indicated in the weeks prior to taking the oath of office for a second time that transportation will be a leading issue of his second term. ella train

The Wall Street Journal has reported that a White House economic analysis from July 2014 found that 41 percent of the state’s roads were in poor condition, noting that Connecticut was tied with Rhode Island with the highest percentage of poor roads.  The state is also in the midst of improving the New Haven - Springfield rail corridor, poised to launch a revitalized "Hartford line."

Grasso, according to news reports of the day, also took the opportunity “to emphasize the need for fiscal authority in the face of projected money pr1000px-seal_of_the_governor_of_connecticut.svgoblems for the state.”

Dollars and sense were also central to the first inaugural address of Governor William A. O’Neill on January 7, 1981.

Published reports indicated “that he favored cutting spending rather than increasing taxes to eliminate a deficit in this year's budget. But he said that balancing spending with existing revenues would be even harder for the fiscal year beginning July 1.”

Speaking before a joint session of the State House of Representatives and Senate, The New York Times reported that Mr. O'Neill said: ''Government at all levels faces increasingly tough decisions, finding itself forced to do more with less. It seems we have only one choice: Curb spending and control taxation.''

O’Neill, who had succeeded to the office just a week earlier upon Grasso’s resignation due to ill health, said 'To maintain a budget balance, we can raise taxes or cut spending even further,'' he said. ''I do not want to raise taxes.''

Later in his term, O’Neill would respond to the collapse of the Mianus River Bridge on I-95 in Greenwich on June 28, 19oneill83, which exposed a poor record of road and bridge maintenance in the state, with creation of a Special Transportation Fund to set aside money to maintain and repair the state's bridges.

That same year, the legislature agreed to eliminate tolls from Connecticut roads, in part due to a horrific accident in January at the Stratford tograssoll station that killed seven people and galvanized public opinion.  The state had collected tolls at 14 locations - eight on the Connecticut Turnpike between Greenwich and Plainfield, three on the Merritt and Wilbur Cross Parkways, and at three bridges in the Hartford area. The tollbooths generated $66 million a year, The New York Times reported that year.

On January 9, 1991, former U.S. Senator and newly elected Governor Lowell P. Weicker said in his inaugural address that “The people of Connecticut have sent us here to do the right thing: to face up squarely to the facts of a state in fiscal trouble.'' Describing the state as ''rudderless,'' he said ''A deficit has taken control of our lives, coloring all else as it climbs beyond comprehension, sapping our confidence, humbling our visions. The past is not worth the best of our courage and creativity. That belongs to the future. 'So let's get this deficit business done, and fast.''weicker

Although he did not propose it on day one, he would soon recommend imposition of a state income tax in Connecticut, which was approved in August 1991 by a reluctant state legislature and signed into law.  Just a few weeks later, Gov. Weicker signed legislation increasing transportation fees by $6 million, clearing the way for dozens of stalled road and bridge projects.  The New York Times reported that the $6 million” will raise the state transportation fund to $63 million” and “insure enough money to pay for road projects for the next six years.”