Editorial: Connecticut's use of school bus funds is unacceptable

In 2010, Connecticut implemented an increased fee for restoring suspended licenses. This fee increase was intended to offset a tax incentive that would allow school districts to purchase school buses with seat belts at lower cost. As reported in the CT Mirror, none of that fund has been spent on its intended purpose. Instead, the vast majority of revenue raised by the fee has been used to reduce budget deficits. The state of Connecticut should not increase fees in the name of a given purpose and subsequently neglect that purpose, using the funds raised for a more pressing problem.

The Mirror notes that this initiative was adopted in response to the death of a Rocky Hill teen on a fieldtrip in the hope that seatbelts on school buses would prevent such tragedies in the future. Yet the law requires school districts work in concert with bus companies and submit an application to receive the tax incentive.

The Mirror reports that no school district has submitted an application in the six years since the programs inception. The Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles has publicized this program only to bus companies and has neglected to inform school districts they could apply for it. This is concerning. If the State had hoped school districts would take advantage of the program and none did so, one would expect the State to make the districts aware of the program. Yet no such effort appears to have been made.

Instead, most of the money raised by the fee increase not to offset tax incentives, but to offset chronic State deficits. Thus, this fund has been completely unhinged from the purpose for which it was established. The tax incentive program will expire at the end of 2017, but the fee increase will be permanent.

While legislators may not have predicted that the program would be unsuccessful, this behavior sets a bad precedent. An enactment motivated by concern for the safety of our schoolchildren has been used only to reduce deficits. This program has operated, in effect, as a legislative bait-and-switch. Such behavior is unbecoming of a State Legislature. If school districts were uninterested in taking advantage of this program due to its high costs, the State should not have enacted it. If school districts were interested, the State should have made a stronger effort to inform them of the program. When the State wants to raise revenue, it should do so by explicitly saying so, not by taking advantage of funds that had been reserved for far different purposes.