Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Tuesday that a 4 cent gas tax increase scheduled for next week will take effect despite a last-minute petition drive organized by Republican leaders, who, Malloy stressed, supported the hike in 2005.
On July 1, Connecticut’s petroleum gross receipts tax on gas will increase to about 4 cents per gallon and diesel fuel will climb about 3.7 cents per gallon. In total, the two increases in taxes are expected to bring in about $60 million a year.
Republicans, led by Senate and House Minority Leaders John McKinney and Lawrence Cafero, launched a petition drive Monday at gas stations across Connecticut in an effort to pressure Malloy and legislative Democrats into taking action to stop the increase.
Asked Tuesday whether he would consider finding a way to stop the increase, Malloy answered by blaming Republicans for the tax increase.
The tax was passed by the legislature, which was controled by Democrats in 2005, and signed by Republican former Gov. M. Jodi Rell. Minority lawmakers largely voted for the bill, including McKinney and Cafero.
“What it means is that the laws that were passed under the Rell administration, by a majority of votes, I believe, of Republicans serving in the legislature, and certainly the current minority leaders in both houses, is going into place,” Malloy said.
McKinney and Cafero defended their votes Monday, saying the state’s economic conditions were better in 2005 than they are today. They also said the funds generated by the tax were meant to support transportation infrastructure improvements and maintenance.
McKinney pointed to the recently-approved state budget, which sweeps around $91 million from the special transportation fund into the general operating fund.
Motor Transport Association of Connecticut President Michael J. Riley said the raid on the transportation fund and impending fuel tax increase were unfair to the state’s trucking industry, which transports food and goods in and out of the state.
“It’s just not necessary to bang the daylights out of a critically important industry like this in order to fund general revenue,” he said. “We need roads and bridges to be fixed, but we don’t need to be cranking up the fuel tax to be able to pay for General Fund expenses.”
Malloy called the sweeps “not a practice that should go on much longer.” He said that the two-year budget transfers less money from the transportation fund in the second year than in the first.
“I’d like to be at zero now. Budgets are a series of compromises that you get to. There was certain revenue sources that could have been identified that the legislature didn’t want to identify, so this is in the budget, but it should get to zero as quickly as possible,” he said.
The governor said the legislature rejected some of his administration’s revenue ideas, which might have been able to raise the money generated by the gas tax increase. He pointed to an electricity auction, which did not make it into the final budget.
Malloy said he is still looking to address some of the state’s looming transportation problems. He said he wants to see Interstate 95 and parts of I-84 widened.
“We have real transportation challenges in this state. I’m trying to address them. We have our left foot on the pedal, trying to move programs forward as rapidly as possible,” he said.
At a meeting of all the state agency heads Tuesday, Malloy’s Transportation Commissioner James Redeker outlined a process for his department to begin to develop a coordinated plan for the state’s transportation future.
Asked how those efforts will be paid for in years to come, Malloy said his administration was hoping to find solutions through the planning process. He pointed out that Connecticut, unlike many nearby states, does not currently have tolls on its highways. He said revenue generated by fuel taxes will also be dropping as residents begin to drive more fuel efficient cars.
“Fuels are changing. More cars are going to be electric or hybrid and the cars that remain primarily powered by diesel or gas will be getting substantially greater mileage per gallon,” he said. “. . . So we’re undertaking a long, hard look at what we need to do and how we can pay for it.”