Christine Stuart photo
Speaker of the House James Amann (Christine Stuart photo )

More than two weeks ago, while Speaker of the House James Amann was on vacation, Republican legislators held a press conference and called for a second special session to cap one of the state’s two gas taxes.

At one point during the July 1 press conference, Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said “everything is on the table” in terms of finding new ways to fund transportation projects in the state. That everything included the reintroduction of highway tolls.

On Thursday, Amann said he would not support bringing back tolls. He pointed out that tolls were removed from Connecticut highways following the fatal 1983 crash at a Stratford toll booth plaza. “I was shocked to hear what my Republican colleagues were proposing,” Amann said.

Amann said he is officially taking tolls off the table for debate.

However, Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Southport, said what Amann is trying to do is to “deflect the attention away from the fact that Democrats don’t want to lower gas taxes.” He said he would like to see the state study the idea of tolls as a new revenue source to replace the reliance on the gross receipts tax on gas.

McKinney said the problem is that a majority of the gross receipts tax, which is passed onto motorists as a percentage of the wholesale price of gas, is going into the general fund. A portion of the tax helps fund transportation projects in the state—which is the stated statutory purpose for tax—but the percentage dedicated to transportation continues to shrink and the amount going into the general fund continues to grow.

That’s not to mention that the tax is raising millions more than projected as the wholesale price of gas increases.

“Nobody anticipated that this gross receipts tax would have raised this sort of revenue,” Amann said. He said that when the state had a budget surplus in 2007 he proposed capping the increase in the gross receipts tax, but he said Gov. M. Jodi Rell wouldn’t agree to it during budget negotiations a year ago.

Rell said two weeks ago that she would support a second special session to cap the tax.

Amann said the Republican plan to cap the tax on the wholesale price of gas would “add to the state budget deficit.” He said tolls will never generate the same kind of revenue being generated by the gross receipts tax.

He said he would be open to a discussion about what percentage of the gas tax goes toward the general fund and what percentage goes toward transportation projects.

Republicans pointed out that following the bridge collapse in Minnesota, Amann wasn’t as opposed to tolls as he was Thursday.

According to an Aug. 8, 2007, Waterbury-Republican American newspaper article:

House Speaker James Amann, D-Milford, said Monday he’s willing to consider tolls and increased gas taxes to beef up safety inspections and repairs to the state’s transportation network.

“I’ll support any idea that supports this program,” he said. “Whatever it takes to make our bridges and roads safe.”

Amann’s comments came during a press conference at which he and other Democratic lawmakers criticized Gov. M. Jodi Rell for holding up a transportation package worth hundreds of millions of dollars and containing provisions for increased road and bridge inspection and repair.