Douglas Healey file photo
Congestion on I-95 (Douglas Healey file photo)

Connecticut Republican lawmakers were surprised to read the Washington Post this weekend and learn that as a member of the I-95 Corridor Coalition, Connecticut has applied for a federal grant to launch a pilot program for a mileage tax.

“If you thought the idea of tolls was unpopular, just wait until you try to tax Connecticut residents for every single mile they drive,” Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, said. “That tax will hit drivers every day. It will hit you everywhere you go, even if you are driving to a hospital emergency room.”

The federal grant, which the group applied for last month, would allow Delaware, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New Hampshire to recruit 50 volunteers from each of the states to act as guinea pigs. The volunteers would then receive fake invoices for the miles they drove.

Judd Everhart, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation, said the agency did apply for the federal grant. However, “we have no intention of moving forward with a mileage-based user fee program.”

He said the Department of Transportation has an obligation to understand driver behavior, and applying for a federal grant to study an idea’s feasibility is what the department does.

“What we are doing, in conjunction with neighboring states, is seeking federal grants so we can be a better department, further understand motorist behavior, and be more efficient and effective in reducing congestion and traffic. That’s it,” Everhart said.

The idea of a mileage tax was proposed and then quickly panned last summer during a meeting of the Governor’s Transportation Finance Panel. But the idea reappeared in January in the Transportation Finance Panel’s final report, which included proposals to help pay for Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s $100 billion transportation plan.

The report directs the Department of Transportation to look at designing a volunteer pilot program that potentially could replace the state fuel tax with a “manageable” mileage tax system.

“More taxes and more burdens on Connecticut drivers is not the way to improve transportation in our state,” Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said. “Last year Democrat lawmakers promised this idea was not going anywhere. Now almost a year later and it’s back on the table.”

He said the governor’s transportation plan is “not realistic” and the mileage tax is not a viable solution to Connecticut’s problems.