Milos Muller via shutterstock

HARTFORD, CT — On his way out the door, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is using his executive authority to spend $10 million on a study of electronic tolls.

Malloy, who tried not to take a firm position on tolls until the public got a chance to vote on a transportation lockbox, took the bold step Tuesday of directing his state agency to conduct a comprehensive assessment of tolling Connecticut’s highways.

“As Connecticut’s General Assembly and next governor consider how to address the future of our state’s transportation funding, this study and plan will prove to be invaluable in their endeavor to make an informed decision,” Malloy said. “After all, we need to be truthful with the people we were elected to represent – without transforming the way we fund our highways, we will be unable to pay for the large-scale construction and rehabilitation projects that our state needs to ensure continued safe travel while attracting businesses and growing our economy.”

The move was applauded by Democratic legislative leadership and panned by Republicans who say another study is “frivolous” and unnecessary.

“We’ve seen other studies, we’ve heard from consultants. We already know the answer to the question he’s asking: it’s going to make it even more expensive to live in Connecticut,” House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said. “Republicans have spelled out how we’d fix roads and bridges—by prioritizing existing dollars.  For those who view tolls as some sort of magic solution, it’s time to put a reasonable and concrete plan forward.”

Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said $10 million to study tolls is double what Department of Transportation originally estimated a study would cost.

“The governor does not even know what the next administration’s plan will be for transportation or whether the next legislature will support the same vision for tolls he has in his mind,” Fasano said. “So this entire study controlled by his administration could be a massive waste of money.”

But Malloy believes he’s doing the next governor a favor.

As vehicles become more fuel efficient or completely electric, the Special Transportation Fund will continue to become more insolvent as each year goes by – an issue that states all across the nation are grappling with.

Since 2013, at least 26 states have responded to the issue by increasing gas taxes, including seven states in the last year alone. The motor vehicle fuel tax in Connecticut was reduced in 1997 from $0.39 per gallon to $0.25 per gallon and has not changed since.

Proposals to increase the gas tax didn’t pass earlier this year.

“Addressing our outdated transportation infrastructure is critical to our future economy, a top priority of our business community, and there is no disagreement that many of our roads and bridges are in disrepair,” House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said. “I’ve been calling for more information to see what options we have, and with transportation funding drying up it makes sense to have an honest conversation about how a toll plan that has out of state drivers paying a large chunk of the cost would work. I certainly don’t think putting the tab on the state’s credit card where 100 percent of the bill is paid by Connecticut taxpayers is the right way to go as Republicans have called for.”

Klarides said Malloy’s pursuit to spend millions as he heads for the exit “shows he has no interest in cutting costs. History has shown the governor does whatever he wants.”

She said the taxpayers can’t afford to subsidize this pursuit.

Fasano shared the sentiment.

“This is an irresponsible and egotistical waste of money as he heads out of office. Gov. Malloy needs to get on his horse, ride into the sunset and leave taxpayers alone,” Fasano said.

The item is on the state Bond Commission agenda next Wednesday, July 25. As governor, Malloy controls the agenda and decides what items will go on the state’s credit card.