SOUTHINGTON, CT — In alphabetical order, a majority of Democratic and one unaffiliated candidates for governor endorsed the idea of installing electronic tolls on Connecticut’s highways and received applause for it.
The nine candidates participated in a forum Friday sponsored by the Connecticut Construction Industries Association. The same group sponsored a similar forum in December for the Republican gubernatorial candidates as well.
None of the candidates who are still in the “exploratory” phase of their campaigns for governor were invited to either forum — only the declared candidates.
The problem: Connecticut’s special transportation fund will start running a deficit in 2019 if the state fails to take any action. As recently as Jan. 10, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who is not seeking re-election, released a list of $4.3 billion in transportation projects that would be postponed indefinitely until new revenue is appropriated for the Special Transportation Fund.
“The solvency of the Special Transportation Fund is in doubt without new revenues,” Transportation Commissioner James Redeker has said.
Traditional forms of revenue that get deposited into the Special Transportation Fund are the gas tax and the gross receipts tax. Connecticut removed tolls from its highways in 1984 following several accidents, including one that claimed seven lives at the Stratford toll plaza on I-95.
R. Nelson ‘Oz’ Griebel, one of the unaffiliated candidates on the stage Friday, said he would support tolls, an increase in the gas tax until they are installed, and even congestion pricing, which would allow the amount of tolls to increase during peak travel hours.
Griebel, who was chairman of the state’s Transportation Strategy Board for five years, may have had an unfair advantage on the topic having previously immersed himself in the subject area.
Griebel said at the time they recommended restoring the 15 cents to the gas tax. He said he believes the gas tax has to be restored at some higher level “if we are going to make progress.”
The comment received applause from the more than 330 construction workers and engineers in the audience whose livelihoods depend on transportation projects that are funded with this money.
He said they also proposed a small surcharge on the sales tax to be deposited into the Special Transportation Fund to help pay for the projects.
“Of course none of this was done,” Griebel said.
Griebel said he also supports electronic tolls, but even if “we were to say ‘go’ today, it probably would be three to five years before they are established.” He said that’s why they need to look at increasing the gas tax as a temporary measure.
He also said he supports the use of technology to help the state collect revenues.
The newest Democratic candidate to enter the race this week, Ned Lamont, said he also supports tolls.
“What we need is a reliable revenue stream for our overall budget and in particular for transportation infrastructure,” Lamont said.
He said he’s going to make tolls a “priority from day one.”
The comment received applause.
Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim didn’t specifically mention tolls when he spoke about his desire to invest in transportation infrastructure, but after the forum he said he absolutely supports tolls.
Guy Smith of Greenwich said he also supports electronic tolls and would give residents a MasterCard that they could use to pay both the tolls and for gasoline. Smith said those credit card reports would be submitted to the Department of Revenue Services and residents would receive a tax credit on what they had spent on Connecticut’s roads.
Sean Connolly of Hebron, a Democratic candidate, said congestion on Connecticut’s highways comes with a cost and hinders economic growth. He said he supports tolls to help pay for improvements to Connecticut’s roads and bridges.
“Without tolls we are currently subsidizing others driving through our state,” Connolly said. “We’re paying. They’re not.”
Connolly, the first to address the audience of more than 300 construction workers, said transportation is tied to Connecticut’s economic future.
“Failure to invest in our transportation infrastructure will costs thousands and thousands of jobs,” Connolly said.
Mark Stewart, Micah Welintunkonis, Lee Whitnum, and Jacey Wyatt also participated in the forum. Welintunkonis is an unaffiliated candidate and the rest are seeking the Democratic Party nomination.
After the forum, Don Shubert, president of the Connecticut Construction Industries Association, said it was “nice to hear them talk about how they’re going to pay for it.”
The General Assembly was unable to find enough votes to approve electronic tolls last year and attempts to create a bureaucratic structure to do it without legislative approval were also scrapped.
It’s unclear if there’s enough support for electronic tolls in the legislature to get it passed before voters decide on a constitutional lockbox in November. The lockbox, according to proponents, would prevent lawmakers from raiding the revenue earmarked for the Special Transportation Fund.
Toll proponents had hoped to get a lockbox in place before moving forward with the idea, but that didn’t happen.
Democratic and Unaffiliated candidates were invited to discuss how they would handle the state’s transportation needs on Friday. Each candidate had 10 minutes and some offered ideas on how to solve Connecticut’s transportation problems. Watch our video of all the candidates below.
READ OUR STORY: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/20180119_applause_for_tolls_from_audience_of_construction_workers/
The forum was held at the Aqua Turf and sponsored by the Connecticut Construction Industries Association Inc.
Posted by CTNewsJunkie.com on Friday, January 19, 2018