Hartford needlessly hates us on the Gold Coast

I was watching CT-N the other night (my favorite reality TV channel) as the members of the Citizens Public Transportation Commission were meeting for an incredibly boring discussion of the state’s transit woes. But toward the end of the meeting, my ears perked up as one of the 80-plus-year-old members started on a rant.

“Our next governor is going to be ‘gold plated,’” he said. “He’ll come from Fairfield County, the Gold Coast, so heaven help us!”

Not even the lone member of the commission from Fairfield County dared challenge this crazy assumption that a governor from the ultra-affluent downstate region would do anything but spend to help Fairfield County while ignoring the rest of the state.

Which got me thinking: Why does everyone upstate mistrust us — we who live on the Gold Coast?

Years ago, when I used to journey to Hartford for my annual appeal to the legislature’s Transportation Committee to invest in new rail cars for Metro-North, I could feel and hear the resentment. Then-committee Chairman Senator Billy Ciotto (D-Wethersfield) excoriated my testimony, once saying “You people on the Gold Coast can buy your own damn trains!”

Even the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council’s longtime member from Guilford (Shore Line East territory), an otherwise learned and reasonable man, says that Fairfield County isn’t the “real Connecticut.” Oh, really?

Consider the facts:

We pay the taxes: More than 40% of all the taxes collected in this state come from Fairfield County. Something like 15% of the state’s total collections comes from Greenwich, New Canaan and Darien.

Without Fairfield County taxes, upstate residents’ tax rates would soar.

But we don’t get the benefits: Though we pay most of the taxes, we get almost nothing back in return. Towns like Darien get back 1¢ for every dollar sent to Hartford. One cent! Who’s gold plating the roads in Wethersfield? We are.

We’re not all millionaires: Sure, there are some affluent families living along the Gold Coast. But our state’s most populous and poorest city, Bridgeport, is here too. I’d guess there are far more people living in poverty in Norwalk, Stamford and Greenwich than in West Hartford or Farmington.

We’re the victims of transit neglect: Who suffers more from traffic congestion than those who drive Interstate 95 through Fairfield County? And who pays the highest commuter rail fares in the U.S., but Metro-North riders? Our rail cars are older than most passengers and our highways show the scars of decades of neglect.

So for those people who live north of the Merritt Parkway (the Mason-Dixon line of Connecticut politics), get over yourselves and stop portraying us as free-spending fat cats living not in Connecticut but some annex of New York City.

Connecticut’s next governor will come from Fairfield County. And that’s a good thing. Who knows more about what happens when you don’t invest in your highways and trains?

Maybe the shiny new commuter rail from New Haven to Springfield (which we’ll all be heavily subsidizing) can learn from Metro-North’s mistakes. Maybe a new governor can extend Shore Line East from Old Saybrook beyond New London to Mystic, Stonington and even Rhode Island, turning local rail critics into passengers.

To her credit, Brookfield’s Jodi Rell has served our entire state’s interests as governor, especially in funding improved mass transit state-wide, not just in her own hometown. And I have every confidence that Dan Malloy or Tom Foley will be governor of all of Connecticut, upstate and down, from the Quiet Corner to, yes, even the Gold Coast.

 

Jim Cameron is chairman of the Metro-North Commuter Council, a member of the Coastal Corridor Transportation Investment Area and the Darien Representative Town Meeting, but the opinions expressed here are his own. You may reach him at [email protected] or trainweb.org/ct.

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