HARTFORD, CT — Tolls, tolls, tolls.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, is promising a vote on establishing electronic tolls as early as next week, but he acknowledged that he won’t be able to rely on any Republican votes in an election year.
He said a majority of the Republican legislators have “staked out a position,” and “it’s clear we’re gonna have to do it on our own.”
The Democrats hold a 79-71 majority over Republicans in the House and just five Democrats could derail the effort.
Aresimowicz said they are working on language that would make it acceptable to a majority of the Democratic caucus, but as of Wednesday evening they still didn’t have the votes. The devil will be in the details because whatever is passed is going to be used in the upcoming campaigns.
Republicans have “taken a political position that we can’t count on a single vote coming from them,” Aresimowicz said Tuesday.
He said he’s not willing to walk away from this session without calling it for a vote. He said it’s been an issue for four years.
“Our job is to represent the citizens of the state up here and make decisions for the betterment of the state. This falls into this category for me,” Aresimowicz said.
Aresimowicz said the Republican Party should get ready for they’re the “party of no tolls and crumbling infrastructure that makes us not competitive with neighboring states.”
On Wednesday he added that they should be prepared to say “we’re the party of no tolls and we’re sorry that that bridge collapsed.”
A reporter pointed out the slogans were not as catchy as “the Democratic Party is the party of tolls.”
When four bills that would permit tolls passed through the Transportation Committee, the Connecticut Republican Party was quick to send out press releases saying that “Connecticut Democrats are moving forward to add tolls to state roadways. As if the Democratic Party has not cost Connecticut’s Workers enough, they will be making the commute to work more expensive.”
Aresimowicz wasn’t concerned.
“I’m no longer afraid of the toll argument at all,” he said. “I’m willing to do the right thing for the state of Connecticut and let the pieces fall where they may.”
He told reporters to look behind the Legislative Office Building parking garage at all the white x’s on the stanchions holding up the elevated portion of I-84. Unable to replace that portion of the highway the state has borrowed $40 million to patch it up.
“This rehabilitation work is necessary to keep the bridges operational and safe until a reconstruction solution for the existing Viaduct, which includes these structures, is implemented through a future I-84 Hartford Viaduct replacement project,” the Transportation Department says in its description of the project.
The highway which carries more than 170,000 vehicles per day was constructed back in the 1960s.
Aresimowicz believes tolls are inevitable and “we need leadership.”
Republicans have said all Connecticut needs to do is prioritize the amount of borrowing it does in general to focus on transportation.
Meanwhile, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has called for rail and bus fare increases and suspended $4.3 billion in projects to keep the Special Transportation Fund solvent.
“The next governor, Republican or Democrat, will do it. That’s my bet,” House Majority Leader Matt Ritter said.
Ritter said in order to help Connecticut residents who will be impacted by tolls he could see a future General Assembly lowering the income tax on a certain bracket and give them extra relief on top of a tax credit.
“If we had a better budget that would be an easy grand bargain,” Ritter said.
Currently, there’s no talk of a gas tax increase among legislative leaders, but Aresimowicz said they should be prepared to put some of the Rainy Day Fund into the Special Transportation Fund to make sure it’s solvent.
Malloy proposed a 7 cent gas tax increase in February. He also proposed putting the sales tax from new car sales into the Special Transportation Fund. Aresimowicz said taking the sales tax revenue has been part of the conversation.