One of the two questions featured on statewide ballots will give Connecticut voters the chance to decide if money earmarked for transportation should be kept in a lockbox.
It’s designed to keep legislators from touching money -- revenue generated from things like the gas tax and motor vehicle-related fines that go into the state’s Special Transportation Fund -- for any reason other than for transportation projects.
“There is an overwhelming amount of people that are in support of this -- polling was like 75 percent – but, you’ve got to make sure that people understand there is a question on that ballot and to make sure that they answer that ballot,” said Tony Guerrera, a Democratic state representative.
The location of the questions on each town’s ballot is not uniform. Some have them in the top right corner and some are on the back. Proponents of the lockbox are worried that people simply won’t see the question and therefore won’t vote on it.
In fact, the last time a question was on the ballot in 2014, 15 percent of the electorate voted for candidates on top of the ballot, but didn’t mark anything on the referendum.
Sen. Len Fasano, the Republican president of the state Senate, joined Guerrera at a recent rally in Hartford to demonstrate bipartisan support for the lockbox.
Fasano said there are still ways legislators could divert funds before they reach the lockbox, but he still supports the proposed constitutional amendment.
“You can’t let the perfect get in the way of the good,” Fasano said. “This is a good step forward. It gives conversations at the legislature -- should someone try to play a game -- we could say, ‘The policy intent was to use all of the money for transportation and you’re not doing it’ by virtue of this vote, so I think that’s what’s important.”
Not every Republican agrees with Fasano. House Minority leader Themis Klarides said she’ll vote ‘no’ on the lockbox.
“That’s like me saying ‘I’d like to have a pizza’ and you hand me a hamburger,” Klarides said. “I wanted the pizza.”
Klarides believes that while Democrats in the legislature may be acting in good faith right now there will still be temptation in the future, and the way this amendment is written simply isn’t strong enough.
“They move money around and that is the problem with this lockbox because your average person that goes to the polls and looks at that question, they say ‘Oh, it’s locked’,” Klarides said. “That’s a pretty simple concept, right? Locked – can’t go anywhere. But that’s not what it is. It’s very vague on both ends.”
Governor Dannel Malloy weighed in recently and said that Republicans should be all over this idea.
“Republicans decried the failure to have this,” Malloy said. “I’m proud to have been the governor who got it through the legislature two times so it could be on the ballot. As I have explained, although I think some people don’t understand how good this is, what it will prevent is people from grabbing —stealing—transportation dollars and spending them the way the legislature and other governors got used to doing it.”
Politicians aren’t the only ones invested in the lockbox measure. Transit workers see it as a way to insure their future.
“Transportation has been my life,” said Godfrey Burton, a bus driver for the city of Stamford. “I’ve been working for transportation for over 30 years now. I think it’s very important for us to maintain and use whatever funds we have for transportation just for transportation.”
On a rainy Saturday in Stamford, Burton and other transit workers from the local Amalgamated Transit Union are door-knocking to inform potential voters about the lockbox.
Burton approached fireman Jason Timmerman at the Glenbrook Fire Department near the corner of Arthur Place and Crescent Street,
“We want you to guys to vote ‘yes’ for the ballot question number one for supporting transportation.”
Timmerman said the ballot question makes perfect sense to him.
“If you don’t keep the money in one place for that specific reason,” he asked, “then why did you put it there to begin with?”
Veronica Chavers, the president of ATU Local 443, organized this campaign.
“All the people, all of the public depend on public transportation and if they go into that lockbox -- they’re dipping their hands into it -- if we secure that for transportation purposes, we won’t have those issues or those problems,” Chavers said.
One of the people that answered the door for Chavers was Stephanie Loulakis-Moore. She wasn’t expecting guests. She was wearing a robe and she hid behind the royal blue door of her townhouse.
“I heard the doorbell ring and I thought I ordered something that I didn’t remember I ordered, so I ran downstairs and I don’t look the best,” Loulakis-Moore said.
Much to the excitement of Chavers, Loulakis-Moore already voted “yes” on the measure when she submitted an absentee ballot.
“I didn’t even know it was going to be on the ballot,” Loulakis-Moore said. “I had no idea what that was, so I voted for everything else and thought about it for a really long time and thought ‘Yeah, they probably shouldn’t be able to use it for anything else’, so I voted yes.”
Loulakis-Moore said it would be helpful if it was publicized more so that people would find the lockbox question on their ballot and actually vote for it. As Loulakis-Moore put it -- there’s no commercials for that.