Rep. Connick has said: “Our pockets are empty.” And he is right. The DOTD’s pockets are empty. Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, Robert Adley has said that one of his roads has turned to gravel and one of his bridges shut down because the State couldn’t afford to fix it. And this was before the Transportation Trust Fund budget was cut by $26 million. And not only are the DOTD’s pockets empty but the mayors of New Orleans and Gretna have both stated they have no funds for bridge lighting nor police to patrol the structure.
Rep. Connick has said: “It’s not fair.” And he is right. It is not fair that the rest of the State should be expected to share dwindling DOTD dollars when the commuters on the fifth busiest toll bridge in the nation can so easily collectively pay a “user’s fee” to fund maintenance, painting, ferries, lighting, landscaping and a dedicated police force for a mere 40 cents per roundtrip.
Rep. Connick has said “The CCCD has been mismanaged and corrupt.” Although Rep. Connick has not announced filing any charges of corruption against the Division, the mismanagement charge has proved valid. And while most would cite Rep. Connick as the legislator who spearheaded cleaning up the CCCD, what most don’t know is that it was my research, beginning two years earlier (in 2006) which I gave then-Speaker of the House, Jim Tucker that resulted in the Legislative Audit and the subsequent “retirement” of top CCCD management.
In the last three years, the DOTD has continued to implement procedures which ensure our toll dollars are used wisely. And with the CCCD due to be abolished in December and this dedicated revenue stream placed directly under Regional Planning, we can be reasonably optimistic that mismanagement and/or corruption is a thing of the past.
Rep. Connick has said, “Let the people vote.” As a member of the CCC Task Force summoned to his “Public Hearing,” on January 31st, I heard this first hand. After nearly three hours of what amounted to a public lynching, Rep. Connick called for a show of hands to abolish the tolls. When the count was nearly unanimous, Connick demanded that the Task Force change our pro-toll vote of 7 to 1 and instead “Do what the people want.”
When I pointed out that a meeting in Algiers had produced exactly the opposite results, I was called a “bitch” and my neighbors dismissed as “ferry lovers.”
Rep. Connick has said, "I will support extending the tolls." Just two days later, (Feb 2nd) Connick wrote in an email to Task Force member Glenn Orgeron,
“If the task force joins me and formally request (sic) that the FBI investigate the insurance deal, investigate the construction of the admin building, investigate the ferry expenses associated with the CCCD, I will support your recommendation to extend the tolls.”
But of course, Task Force had found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. The Task Force was formed to study “best practices” going forward, not examine criminal corruption that might have occurred in the past. To ask this of us was like expecting an English major could just as easily write their dissertation on calculus. We were not chosen for our forensic abilities but as leaders in the business and civic communities.
In an email later that day, Connick made an additional demand:
“…I left out an important part of the compromise - as part of the dea,l (sic) Sen (sic) Heitmeier and Rep. Arnold would have to also join in.”
By demanding the unobtainable, Connick was essentially holding our region's infrastructure hostage with no realistic condition that could be met for its release. This is how he can so easily explain away the email to his constituents as a “bluff.”
But Rep. Connick is right. We SHOULD, "Do what the people want.” When Mike Teachworth’s “No Tolls” petition at Change.org was pulled after less than a week, it had 8 signatures in contrast to Transport for NOLA’s 866 to keep the tolls. (There are now 1,143 online signatures.) When Rep. Connick presented HB 992 to the House Transportation Committee on May 1st, he boasted of collecting 150 signatures to stop the tolls. With the second petition you will find in your mailbox on Monday, our “keep the tolls” paper signatures total 4,600.
So yes, let’s do what the people want. Let’s take that vote in November. And if Rep. Connick opposes the amendment, then the only explanation is that he knows he has not been speaking for ALL "the people."