HARTFORD, CT — Wednesday was a day for pomp and circumstance as the new General Assembly, Governor, and Lieutenant Governor were sworn in, but a few people showed up at the state Capitol to remind everyone that the issue of tolls is going to be a big — if not THE issue — this session.
A small contingent of anti-toll demonstrators paraded around the outside of the state Capitol as the General Assembly and Gov. Ned Lamont were sworn in. Several of them carried anti-toll signs.
“Instead of talking about adding tolls the governor and legislature should take a close look backward [at what] is already on the books to see what spending can be cut,” Cyndy Kozczensky, of Montville, said.
“Putting in tolls will impact everything we do, everything we buy,” she said. “We already have one of the highest gas taxes. Tolls are the last thing we need.”
Nodding in agreement was Wendy Gauthier of Voluntown: “Yes — we just need to cut spending. We will be up here sending that message as much as we need to.”
One of Lamont’s campaign promises included tolling out-of-state tractor trailer trucks.
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, has said out-of-state trucks already contribute $30 million annually to the state.
There is also the question of legality. Trucking associations and carriers sued Rhode Island in July, claiming its truck-only tolls were unconstitutional. The lawsuit is still pending.
Lamont said the decision in that lawsuit will help guide his proposal, which will require legislative approval.
The Connecticut legislature, pending a few recounts, ushered in a Democratic majority in both the House and the Senate. However, that doesn’t mean tolls for all vehicles will be an easy sell.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said he supports Lamont’s proposal to toll out-of-state trucks and a “broader toll.”
However, there are more moderate Democrats who come from districts where the idea of tolling is opposed.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said the real question is where does Connecticut come up with the money to fund the failing infrastructure in order to remain competitive.
Aresimowicz, a supporter of tolls, said he might have to adjust his position because he doesn’t know his new caucus yet.
On the Republican side, House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said this week one of her ideas is to eliminate some of the buses that aren’t at capacity on CTfastrak, the nine-mile rapid busway between New Britain and Hartford.
Klarides said it’s by no means a solution to Connecticut’s transportation problems, but it’s an idea they wanted to share. She didn’t have a dollar figure associated with cutting some of the buses, but said if the state is looking at implementing tolls then it needs to find transportation funding by reducing operating expenses for public transit.
The state is facing a $1.7 billion deficit in the upcoming fiscal year and a $2.3 billion deficit in the following year.
Klarides added that Republicans are open to having a conversation about eliminating the gas tax if tolls become a reality.
However, she said Democrats have said they want to lower the gas tax if they approve electronic tolls, but “we know that they don’t mean that.”
“It’s never enough with these people,” Klarides said. “It’s always let’s spend more, let’s borrow more, let’s make something bigger and we never look at what we’re doing and if it’s working.”