Letter: Use gas tax as intended, not tolls, to fix roads
Voting along straight party lines, the legislature's transportation committee advanced a bill to put tolls on Connectiut highways, 18 Democrats voting "yes" and 13 Republicans voting "no."
These numbers tell you that local elections mean something, and if you want to stop the spigot that Democrats have connected to your wallet, you need to vote accordingly.
We already pay the third highest gas tax in the country, money that is supposed to be used for infrastructure. Is it? Not even close. Only about one-third goes to its purpose. In Massachusetts, 65 percent of gas-tax revenues go toward actual road and bridge work.
Don't believe me? Ask your representative about the current two-year budget approved in 2013. Some $91 million is being removed from the fund to plug gaps in the Malloy budget.
The history of the gross-receipts tax is interesting. It started as a 2 percent tax. It's now over 8 percent. It was created by politicians who didn't like the fact that oil companies were making a profit, and they wanted a piece of it. Part of the law was that oil companies could not pass the tax along to consumers, but a court shot down that provision. The tax survived, but now consumers are paying it.
Gross-receipts tax revenue originally was to establish a fund to help gas station owners remove leaking underground tanks. Currently, only 1 percent of the funds are used for that purpose. Instead of eliminating the tax because its purpose barely exists, the state continues to increase the rate and steal from the fund to pay for non-transportation expenses.
Like what? Personnel costs of the Department of Transportation, Department of Motor Vehicles and state police have been paid out of the special transportation fund. So now our elected leaders want toll booths back -- not because gasoline taxes collected over the past few decades weren't enough to take care of our roads and bridges but because they misappropriated those funds.
In some years, almost none of the gross-receipts tax revenue was deposited in the special transportation fund. So excuse my cynicism. These elected officials do not have the right, or, should I say, the moral authority to blatantly misuse the gross-receipts tax revenue, cry wolf that we don't have enough money in the fund to repair roads and bridges, and as a result, demand we build tolls to accomplish what these funds were intended to accomplish for the past 30 years.
Contact your representatives in Hartford -- including state Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vahey, D-133rd District, the former selectman who helped pass this bill out of committee -- and tell them they have no right asking us for more when they misappropriated what they already collected.
Fool me once ...
Approved health plan
benefits town, as well as its educators
In December 2014, the Fairfield RTM rejected a negotiated contract between the Fairfield School Administrators Association and the Board of Education largely based on a health insurance plan it believed was too costly, a prefered provider organization (PPO) plan with co-pays. Earlier in December, the RTM had approved a teachers' contract with the same co-pay design.
The RTM thought at the time that a high-deductible health plan with a health-savings account would save the town more money. As compared with a traditional PPO plan, with some exceptions, high dedutible/health savings plans require the employee to pay a deductible up front before the insurance plan covers medical services.
On March 19, the RTM, following a costly arbitration process, approved the exact same contract previously rejected.
Who won this battle? The answer is everyone: the taxpayers, the RTM and the Fairfield school administrators and teachers.
Co-pay plans sometimes can be can be more cost effective than high-deductible plans, and that is the case in Fairfield. The key is determining which plan better encourages appropriate use of health care services while minimizing costs to the town.
During the teachers contract negotiations, I served as the lead negotiator for health insurance. The Board of Education used health insurance experts from Aon and Milliman. Together, we analyzed the industry standard for high-deductible plans. When it became clear that there were little, if any, cost savings, we examined the high-deductible/health savings account model, which would shift greater costs onto the teachers.
In the end, both sides unanimously agreed that the PPO plan that eventually was adopted was the best choice for the town, the Board of Education and the teachers. It saved the town millions of dollars over a three-year period versus the current PPO plan and any of the reasonable high-deductibe/health savings account plans. It also allowed employees to continue with a program with which they were familiar. Overall, it was a model win-win solution.
Moving forward, the teachers and the BOE recognize that the rising cost of healthcare remains a serious concern. We have committed to getting together a full year before the most recent contract is due to expire to review our options.
By then, a presidential and congressional election will have taken place, and the health insurance industry will have had an opportunity to react to changes in the marketplace. Until then, the town can rest assured that the BOE, the teachers and school administrators arrived at the most cost effective, appropriately designed health plan for the town and their employees.
Bob Smoler, president
The writer is a former chief executive officer of Oxford Health Plans-NY.