Rep. Whit Betts: 'The Voters Don't Want This, And Today The Voters Were Overruled'
By DON STACOM
May 07, 2012
HARTFORD —— The long-running campaign to scrap the New Britain busway ran out of gas Monday when legislators voted down an amendment to strip its funding.
"Legislatively, there's nothing more we can do," said Rep. Whit Betts, R-Bristol, after lawmakers shot down the last-chance amendment.
But the 82-64 vote revealed startlingly widespread opposition to one of Connecticut's costliest and most controversial infrastructure projects.
Thirteen Democrats voted to scuttle the busway, even though it has become one of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's signature initiatives and has the backing of House and Senate leadership.
Most notably, voting against the busway were Reps. Joe Verrengia, Brian Becker and Andrew Fleischman, the three Democratic legislators from West Hartford. That's one of three communities the busway will run through. West Hartford has never been more than lukewarm about the prospect of a $569 million bus rapid transit system cutting through the community; it also will run through Newington on its route between Hartford and New Britain.
Rep. Tony Guerrera, co-chairman of the transportation committee, urged lawmakers to keep the funding in place because the state has already hired contractors to do hundreds of millions of dollars worth of construction. Killing the busway now would wipe out jobs and risk huge lawsuits from the contractors, Guerrera said.
But Betts said it was significant that advocates largely stayed silent when the amendment came up.
"I didn't hear any words of enthusiasm for this project," Betts said. "That's because the voters don't want this, and today the voters were overruled."
Last week, Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, put forward a similar measure in the Senate, and it, too, failed.
Ever since Malloy, a Democrat, won office in late 2010, Republicans have taken the lead in opposing the busway. Prior to that, the positions were reversed; several Democrats were the ones ridiculing the value of the busway. Republican legislators at that time voiced no dissent; Republican M. Jodi Rell was governor at that point, and – like Malloy – was a busway supporter.
Betts' amendment would have diverted more than $100 million in state funding from the busway to highway and bridge repair. More than half of the busway's budget is federal money, but the loss of state funding would have killed the project. Betts' Republican colleagues all voted with him.
Democrats voting against the busway were the West Hartford delegation and Reps. Louis Esposito, Mary Fritz, Bryan Hurlburt, Steven Mikutel, Frank Nicastro, Elaine O'Brien, Daniel Rovero, Diana Urban, Roberta Willis and Christopher Wright.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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