While it may be unpopular the legislature’s Transportation Committee kept a bill that would allow electronic tolls on Connecticut’s highways alive.
The Transportation Committee voted 18-13 Wednesday to send the bill to the House floor.
Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, said while establishing tolls may be unpopular, “we have to keep the discussion alive to decide where we need to be.”
Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has proposed a 30-year plan to improve Connecticut’s transportation infrastructure, but the governor is leaving it up to a soon-to-be named commission and the legislature to figure out how to pay for it.
“To not discuss it. To not even have it on the table puts us behind the eight ball,” Leone said.
Republican lawmakers objected to moving forward with the bill.
Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, equated re-establishing tolls to the establishment of the income tax in 1991. She said the public has weighed in “very strongly” on the issue.
“People uniformly have an opinion on this,” Boucher said, warning that voters would remember this when they head to the polls in the future. “…For those of you considering this, you’re considering a political risk.”
Transportation Committee co-Chairman Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, assured her the bill was a work in progress and part of a larger conversation about how to fund Connecticut’s transportation infrastructure.
Boucher said her constituents want to know if the tolls would be in addition to one of the highest gas taxes in the country.
Guerrera said the reality is that every new car will get 50 miles to the gallon and gas tax revenue will decline. He argued that the legislature will have to deal with this either by establishing tolls or implementing some other tax, “but no one’s had the guts to tell me that yet.”
He said they were elected to make tough decision and re-establishing tolls is one of those decisions.
“If we don’t get elected then so be it,” Guerrera said. “At least you can sleep at night.”
The bill was amended to ensure that any funds collected through tolling would be used exclusively for transportation programs.
The committee also passed two pieces of legislation aimed at making sure funds collected by tolls or the gas tax would be applied to transportation improvements.
Malloy sent out a statement praising the committee for forwarding the “lockbox” legislation to the House.
“If we are going to make the type of investments necessary for building a stronger and better transportation system in Connecticut, we must have a covenant with our citizens that ensure any money raised for transportation will only be spent on transportation,” Malloy said. “If we don’t have that agreement up front, we’ll never gain the trust necessary for getting this done. And we can’t afford a piecemeal approach — any funding mechanism to fund transportation must be comprehensive in nature.”