Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo
Ned Lamont and Susan Bysiewicz (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo)

MERIDEN, CT — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont stood on the state’s newly opened train platform in Meriden Tuesday and said he wants to see more frequent and regular rail service and plans to pay for it with a toll on out-of-state tractor trailer trucks.

“They’re taking us right now to the cleaners,” Lamont said of the out-of-state tractor trailer carriers.

Lamont estimated the state could collect as much as $100 million from electronic truck-only tolls on only out-of-state trucks.

Joseph Sculley, president of Motor Transport Association of Connecticut, said out-of-state trucks already contribute $30 million annually to the state.

“Out-of-state trucks do not travel through Connecticut for free,” Sculley said. “They pay for the diesel fuel they use while traveling in our state, regardless of where it was purchased, and they pay a share of Connecticut vehicle registration fees based on their travels in our state, regardless of where the truck is based.”

The average Connecticut-based 18-wheel tractor trailer pays more than $17,000 annually in state and federal road taxes, Sculley said.

“The Connecticut trucking industry pays more than 6 times its fair share of road taxes. Let’s stop picking on the industry that brings food to stores, fuel to homes and gas stations, and medicine to hospitals. Instead, let’s focus on spending road and bridge tax money on roads and bridges,” Sculley added.

Not to mention that any proposal to toll “just out-of-state tractor trailers is so clearly a violation of the U.S. Constitution,” Sculley said. He said it’s not even worth discussing any further because it would never be allowed to happen.

Trucking associations and carriers sued Rhode Island in July claiming its truck-only tolls were unconstitutional.

The lawsuit is still pending.

Susan Bysiewicz, Lamont’s running mate, said they won’t support tolls if voters don’t approve the constitutional lockbox for revenues to the special transportation fund. The question will be on the ballot in November.

“I think that’s a key component,” Bysiewicz said clarifying the position. “We want to make sure if we go the toll route that that money will be used specifically for transportation infrastructure.”

Having removed its toll booths in 1983 after a tractor trailer killed six people at a Stratford toll booth, Connecticut and Vermont are the only two states in New England without some form of electronic highway tolls.

Meanwhile, Lamont said the economy and jobs is still the most important goal for the next governor.

“The best thing we can do to hold down costs is economic development, job creation, and growth,” Lamont said. “And that’s what this meeting in Meriden is all about.”

He said you can’t separate the private investment happening around Connecticut’s rail stations from jobs and economic growth— they are one in the same.

The budget the General Assembly approved in May accelerates the transfer of sales tax revenue related to motor vehicle purchases from the General Fund to the Special Transportation Fund. The fund, which helps pay for transportation infrastructure, was headed for insolvency at the beginning of the session. Now, it’s projected to have surpluses through 2023. 

The 2019 budget also allows for a total of $1 billion in transportation bonding per year and subsidies for rail, bus, and paratransit services are increasing by $13 million, $23 million and $3.8 million.

Lamont said he would leave everything on the table when it comes to making sure there’s enough money to fund transportation initiatives.

Lamont’s Republican opponent, Bob Stefanowski, has said he wants to leverage private dollars to improve Connecticut’s transportation infrastructure.

However, Lamont warns that when Stefanowski worked for 3i Group, a private equity firm that invests in infrastructure, they used electronic tolls to earn back their investment on roads and bridges.

Lamont added that Stefanowski doesn’t say how he would pay for anything. He said he only talks about eliminating $10 billion from a $20 billion state budget over eight years.

Lamont wants to use the $100 million from the tolls to install wifi on CTrail Hartford Line trains, increase connections to Bradley Airport, provide more frequent train service, and explore purchasing train tracks from Amtrak. Purchasing the rails from Amtrak will likely fall outside the $100 million and involve negotiations.

“While I have to applaud Ned for his creativity, his assertions here are pure fiction,” Stefanowski shot back in a statement. “Let’s talk facts – Under the high tax policies of Dan Malloy, which Lamont has pledged to continue, our economy has forfeited billions of dollars in GDP growth. My plan will reverse this economic failure and bring Connecticut back in line with regional growth which will result in more revenue to fund critical priorities like transportation and education.”

Republicans in the General Assembly have a plan to re-prioritize the borrowing the state does to increase investments in transportation infrastructure, while reducing investments in other areas.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been edited to say that Connecticut and Vermont are the only two states in New England without some form of electronic highway tolls. The original version of the story erroneously reported that Connecticut was the only New England state without tolls.