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State House’s six-figure scoreboard not a necessity

If You Ask Me

We can understand how it thrills our 151 state representatives to see their names up in lights whenever they vote and how jealous the senators must be that their 36 votes are still counted the old fashioned way.

But it’s hard to believe it’s absolutely necessary in these perilous times to replace the still working, 1980s electronic scoreboard in the House chamber with a new, higher tech version that will cost around $800,000. The $800,000 is, in fact, an estimate as the people who determine the final cost are still crunching the numbers, and we can safely assume there will be a slight cost overrun.

Some grouchy legislators, mostly Republicans who tend to be grouchier about spending money than Democrats, have pointed out that this is a swell example of an unnecessary expenditure, but the governor, who normally has a better political ear in such matters, defends the purchase. He says the citizenry deserves an accurate vote count in the General Assembly, which it mostly enjoyed without electronic assistance for three centuries.

The governor, it should be noted, does not have to run for re-election next year while frugal office seekers like State Sen. Andrew Roraback and businesswoman Lisa Wilson Foley, two critics of the move, are hoping to serve in Congress beginning in 2013, uncomfortably in the same seat.

Roraback, who never missed a House or Senate vote, however it was recorded, is one of two members of the 10-member Bond Commission who voted against the new scoreboard. The other was, not surprisingly, State Rep. Sean Williams, the only other Republican. The two also voted together against $2 million for a Boys and Girls Club in Bristol and $500,000 in streetscape work in West Haven, which you don’t have to be a Republican to find somewhat nonessential.

Roraback also pointed out that the Boston Red Sox, who, like the Connecticut legislature, didn’t have a good year either, only recently installed an electronic scoreboard in Fenway Park and had made do with a manual operation for nearly a century.

He also could have mentioned that, unlike the legislature, the Red Sox haven’t run a deficit probably since the days of Pumpsie Green. In fact, the only similarity between the Red Sox players and Connecticut legislators is drinking beer in their clubhouses.

Roraback also observed you could buy a pretty nice home in his district for $800,000, which is true, as you can buy a pretty nice home for that kind of money in any of the 169 cities and towns. But this gave a devastatingly clever Connecticut Democratic Party spokesperson an opportunity to engage in a little class warfare.

“Where Andrew Roraback comes from, $800,000 will buy you ‘a pretty nice home,’ — at least, that’s what he said at this morning’s State Bonding Commission meeting. What Andrew Roraback showed is exactly how out of touch he is with the 5th District,” said Jacie Fotkowski, the Connecticut Democratic Party spokesperson. “While Roraback’s over six-figure lakefront house probably is pretty nice, reality for many 5th District families is far different.”

Before that rapier-like thrust, spokesperson Fotkowski reported that the “average home” in the less affluent 5th District town of New Britain is $173,400 and Meriden, $205,300, which, by my count, are also six-figure homes.

The House will eventually need a new scoreboard, but this year it’s an awfully bad idea. It’s true that votes were counted manually during most of the more than 350 years we’ve had a House and during most of that time, the House had two members for each of the 169 cities and towns.

It’s also true the hundred-member United States Senate manages to count its votes without electronic assistance. But then, the United States Senate rarely votes on anything important these days.

Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at dahles@hotmail.com.