State budget director Benjamin Barnes warned lawmakers Wednesday against looking exclusively to highway tolls as a solution to funding improvements to state roads, bridges, and rail systems.
“I don’t believe that, economically, it makes sense to put all of our eggs in the basket of tolling and I don’t know that we have the ability to implement that,” Barnes told the legislature’s Transportation Committee during a hearing on establishing tolls at Connecticut’s borders.
Barnes, head of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s Office of Policy and Management, did say the state would need to raise revenue in order to continue funding its current transportation programs, let alone Malloy’s aggressive 30-year infrastructure investment plan.
Inflation, coupled with declining revenue from gas taxes, will see the cost of current programs exceed the state’s ability to fund them by 2018, he said. But Barnes articulated concern that tolls could reduce federal transportation support and would fail to raise adequate money to fund the level of transportation spending Malloy has proposed.
“The levels of tolling that would have to be imposed in order to generate that level of revenue would have significant ill effects” by discouraging people from traveling on state highways, he said.
But Transportation Committee co-Chairman Rep. Tony Guerrera voiced strong support of establishing tolls during the same hearing. He said they would spread the burden of transportation expenses to out-of-state drivers who are using Connecticut roads for free.
“I’m going to tell you this: I am not going to allow the people of this state to take the burden on their back when 75 percent of them are traveling through this state and not paying for it. That is dead wrong. And we have to look at that,” he said.
Guerrera said he was willing to talk about revenue alternatives. “But the day has come and we know that. We’re not going to get the money from gas taxes. So either we’re going to put a [new] tax in place or we’re going to keep traveling on the worst roads in the United States.”
Barnes speculated the federal government may loosen its rules on tolls in an effort to escape its transportation funding obligations to states. He said if lawmakers do want to make tolls part of Connecticut’s plan, they should elect to establish electronic tolls rather than install toll booths.
“I’m absolutely opposed to toll booths,” he said.