Courtesy of IIP

For the first time since 2014, Connecticut residents voted to amend the state constitution, with this year’s two ballot amendments passing in a landslide.

Two state constitutional amendments, titled Protect Transportation Funds and State Property Transfer Requirements, made the ballot this year. The former, labeled Amendment 1 on the ballot, proposed requiring all income raised through transportation taxes to be allocated to transportation costs. The State Property Transfer Requirements amendment, labeled Amendment 2, proposed requiring that a public meeting be held before the state transfers any publicly-owned land. As of Thursday night, with 77 percent of precincts reporting, Amendment 1 had received 88.1 percent of votes — 748,438 votes — and Amendment 2 had received 84.4 percent approval — 676,226 votes.

While many of Connecticut’s elections were too close to call into the early hours of Wednesday, the passage of the two amendments was confirmed before 11 p.m. on Tuesday. Both amendments were supported by many environmental activists, who advocated for more efficient, well-funded public transportation and greater transparency in maintaining public lands.

“I am very pleased that Connecticut voters sent a resounding message about safeguarding the environment, rebuilding our infrastructure, protecting taxpayers and upholding the principles of good government,” said Greater New Haven Green Fund Board of Directors member Aaron Goode.

Both environmental policies have been the subject of contentious debate in recent years. The transportation lockbox initiative failed to make the ballot in 2016 after not garnering enough votes in a 2015 legislative session. Yet a 2017 legislative session saw the amendment make the ballot by a measure of 101 to 50 in the General Assembly and 29 to 7 in the State Senate.

The second proposed constitutional amendment regarding public land transfers follows a controversial 2011 land swap deal in which the state government swapped 17 state-owned acres overlooking the Connecticut River in Haddam in exchange for 87 wooded acres owned by developers.

Advocates for the ballot amendments stressed that legislative measures passed in the state Congress would not be as effective at effecting policy changes as constitutional amendments. Connecticut Forest & Park Association Executive Director Eric Hammerling, who acted as treasurer for the Protect CT Public Lands campaign, said that even if the laws were passed, the former legislation would still override new legislation. Therefore, a state constitutional amendment would be necessary to override prior legislation.

Transportation revenues are currently funded by various special taxes and fines levied by the state, including motor vehicle-related fines, a tax on petroleum and taxes on fuel. The proposed transportation lockbox amendment follows similar successful measures recently taken by other states, including Maryland, Wisconsin, Illinois, New Jersey, Louisiana and California. Activists have also cited laws in New York, Massachusetts and Maine that maintain higher levels of transparency regarding the transfer of public lands.

“It is time for Connecticut to step up and match neighboring states,” Hammerling said.

While Hammerling was the treasurer of an organized and officially registered campaign in favor of the amendments, there was no organized or official opposition against the amendment.

Despite various politicians and newspapers endorsing the ballot measures, Hammerling expressed worries that many voters would not understand the context of the ballot questions and would not be aware of the potential effects of the ballot measures. He also explained that the placement of measures on the ballot was not consistent from town to town, adding difficulty to advocating for the measures.

Goode said that whether voters would clearly understand the questions was a “big if.”

“Advocates of the two amendments were always confident that if people understood what was behind the legalese, they would vote yes on both questions,” Goode said. “On Tuesday voters showed they got it, especially in places like New Haven where there was a strong educational effort about the questions.”

Yet, Yale students voiced concerns about the questions’ wording and how amendment advocates advertised the ballot measures. Neelam Sandhu ’21, who voted against Amendment 2, said that voters who are not well-versed in state land transfer policy would struggle to understand the ramifications of Amendment 2.

“Those questions and the way they were worded seemed somewhat inaccessible,” Sandhu said. “A typical voter who may not have a full awareness of the constitutional issue may not even be able to understand what they are voting on by reading the amendment itself.”

The Connecticut state constitution has been amended 30 times since its adoption in 1965. The most recent constitutional amendment was passed in 2008 via that year’s presidential election.

Nick Tabio |  nick.tabio@yale.edu .