Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s Transportation Finance Panel recommended increasing the gas tax, adding another half-percent to the sales tax, and implementing congestion tolling to help pay for the governor’s $100 billion transportation vision.
However, none of the revenue proposals the panel made Friday at the Legislative Office Building during their final meeting would be implemented until 2018.
The panel, which met several times over nearly 10 months to discuss their options, recommended increasing the gas tax 14 cents to 39 cents per gallon, and phasing in that increase over a seven-year period. They also recommended implementing all-electronic congestion tolling in several areas of the state to help finance specific projects. They estimated that tolling would raise nearly $18.3 billion over 20 years.
In addition, the panel recommended increasing the current 6.35 percent sales tax by another half-percent to help pay for transportation improvements and increasing rail and bus fares 2.5 percent annually to keep pace with inflation.
But none of those revenue enhancements will come before the General Assembly approves a constitutional amendment to protect the transportation funds, Malloy said Friday.
Malloy, who attended Friday’s meeting to receive the recommendations, said the goal for the upcoming legislative session is to “get a constitutional lockbox” with enough support to get on the ballot in November.
“I’m not going to lead additional revenue discussions until that happens,” Malloy said.
Malloy said he’s made the point to various constituencies that “we need the constitutional lockbox if we’re going to raise the additional money.”
And if the state doesn’t raise the additional money “bridges are going to fall down,” Malloy added. “That’s the reality. Look at the numbers.”
According to the report, 41 percent of state and local roads are in poor condition and 35 percent of Connecticut’s bridges are functionally obsolete or structurally deficient. At least 70 percent of state-maintained bridges were built before 1970 and most were built with a 50 year lifespan.
“It would be easy for me to walk away from this issue and say, ‘Hey, I’ll just wait for the next calamity’,” Malloy said.
Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, said she’s not so sure her constituents would support an increase in revenues through things like tolls and gas tax hikes, even if there is a lockbox in place to dedicate the money to transportation.
Lavielle said the proposal for congestion tolling impacts the I-95 corridor specifically and the sentiment for that “is not favorable.”
Lavielle said Republicans have proposed reallocating the state’s bonding to help pay for the improvements, but Democrats have criticized the proposal saying it would take money away from other priorities.
Cameron Staples, the chairman of the finance panel, said Friday that it was important to find new funding streams for the initiative because he didn’t think it was “realistic to divert existing revenue from the current tax structure.”
As the former chairman of the legislature’s Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee, Staples said he felt it would be easier for the state to adopt new revenues as long as they were dedicated to transportation.
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said if the Democrats want to raise revenue to pay for transportation improvements then they should do it in 2016 and not wait until the next gubernatorial election in 2018.
“They don’t want to vote, because they know that their votes supporting new taxes are not what the people of Connecticut want to see,” Fasano said. “Their intention is to purposely stay silent, get elected, and then raise taxes — just like we saw after the last election.”
All members of the General Assembly are up for re-election this year.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, echoed Malloy’s remarks and said it’s important to establish a lockbox before increasing revenue.
Last month, the House failed to pass a lockbox with the supermajority it needed to get it on the November ballot. Malloy plans to re-write the resolution and to introduce it when the General Assembly reconvenes on Feb. 3.
“In the upcoming legislative session, the ‘lockbox’ needs to be passed as a critical measure of accountability before any transportation initiatives are considered,” Sharkey said.