Earlier this year Connecticut motorists received unwelcome news when one of the state’s two taxes on gasoline increased by 8.81 percent.
This brought the combined local, state and federal gas taxes to a total of 63.4 cents per gallon in Connecticut – the highest in New England, and more than 14 cents per gallon above the national average.
Truck drivers haven’t fared much better in recent years, as Connecticut has more than doubled the diesel fuel tax rate from 26 cents per gallon in 2004 to 54.9 cents today (Hartford Business Journal) – driving up the cost of business and consumer goods.
Gas and diesel taxes are intended for the state’s Special Transportation Fund (STF) – a pool of money used to maintain transportation infrastructure, such as repairs to our roads, bridges and rails. The continued investment of these funds into transit improvements is critical as many of our structures deteriorate and pose a serious threat to safety.
With gasoline and diesel taxes increasing drastically in recent years, the Special Transportation Fund is growing by leaps and bounds; in the last five years, the total funding rose 18.3 percent to $1.2 billion (Hartford Business Journal).
However, many Connecticut transportation systems continue to languish in disrepair. That’s why I was one of the overwhelming number of lawmakers in 2005 who dedicated money to go to roads and bridges which required a tax increase, but that’s not inconsistent with what I’m doing now in asking for the money to be dedicated to transportation.
Inspectors recently classified 49 state bridges as “structurally deficient” and “fracture-critical;” those bridges experience an average daily traffic of 1.8 million vehicles (Associated Press). Moreover, 73 percent of Connecticut roads are classified as being in “poor” or “mediocre” condition (American Society of Civil Engineers).
The condition of our roads and bridges continue to go downhill despite skyrocketing revenues because majority party legislators aren’t using the funds for their designated purpose.
In fact, this year the General Assembly and governor passed legislation to funnel $118 million from the Special Transportation Fund into General Fund coffers, where it will be used for unrelated services and programs.
I was a vocal opponent of this measure because the revenue is not being used for infrastructure improvement, as designed, but to balance the bloated state budget — which saw a colossal 10 percent spending increase this year.
In order to prevent this fiscal gimmick, I introduced legislation in 2013 that would restrict the use of STF money for transportation purposes only. This would ensure that gasoline taxes are used only to mend our suffering transportation infrastructure, helping to make the state safer for commuters and curtailing the rising cost of transportation.
My original proposal would have gone into effect immediately upon passage; however, legislative leaders opted to change it at the last minute so that the rule applied starting in 2015 – allowing them to snatch STF funds this year before prohibiting it down the road.
The legislation (PA 13-277) was passed by near-unanimous margins in the Transportation Committee; Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee and both chambers of the General Assembly, in addition to being signed into law by the Governor.
I am pleased this policy will improve safety for commuters, as well as boost transparency and prevent state government from using sleight-of-hand fiscal maneuvers to balance the budget.
However, I remain disappointed that more than $100 million of your tax dollars, levied specifically under the guise of “infrastructure repairs,” was used to feed our ever-growing state government.
Moving forward, I am hopeful that we can take more steps to reduce the cost of living and commuting in Connecticut, while keeping folks safe as they travel throughout our state.
State Rep. David A. Scribner, a Republican from Brookfield, is the ranking member of the Transportation Committee and Transportation Bonding Subcommittee. He represents the 107th District communities of Brookfield, Bethel and Danbury.