HARTFORD, CT — The $800 million-to-$1 billion that Connecticut might see in toll revenue won’t be available until 2024, so what will Gov. Ned Lamont do until then to keep the highways safe and the trains running on time?
Office of Policy and Management Secretary Melissa McCaw said the governor doesn’t believe in creating “leaky buckets” in one place in order to fill them in another. She said the new car sales tax revenue will remain at the current rate of 8 percent and they will maintain the 0.5 percent of general fund sales tax revenues devoted to the transportation fund.
Regardless, the reality is that the fund is projected to become insolvent by 2022, with operating deficits beginning in 2020.
“The governor wants to find a real sustainable path,” McCaw said. “Not only to maintain our current level of investment, but to make the investment to position us for growth.”
Over the past two years the General Assembly has transferred $250 million per year in general obligation bonds to the special transportation fund to save it from insolvency. The General Assembly and Executive Branch have, in the past, used transportation bond funds to balance the general budget. But that has not occurred for several years even though the past practice continues to be a talking point for partisans and critics of raising additional revenues for the fund.
Don Shubert, president of the Connecticut Construction Industries Association, Inc., believes limiting any allocation to the Special Transportation Fund would be a mistake. Lamont recently announced his desire to put the state on a “debt diet,” including no longer transferring $250 million a year to the Special Transportation Fund to support transportation projects.
Shubert says this is a mistake.
“The governor’s proposed cap on transportation bonding will curtail programmed projects and exacerbate the deteriorating condition of our transportation systems,” Shubert said. “It will shut down projects that will address congestion and safety. The planned program was not keeping pace with Connecticut’s transportation needs and now the DOT will be forced to apply the brakes — stacking up years and years of deferred maintenance. It is hard to imagine Connecticut moving in a positive direction when the it is effectively gutting the transportation program and crippling the economy.”
According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), more than 15 percent of the state’s bridges are currently and will remain in poor condition, increasing to 20 percent in poor condition by 2025. For pavement, about 10 percent of non-interstate roadways are in poor condition today. By 2025 that figure will reach 15 percent. If Lamont were to continue the “Let’s Go CT!” program that was started four years ago under former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, then he would need $2 billion per year just to keep up with state-of-good repair projects.
Further, if the state fails to dedicate $2 billion annually to maintaining the current transportation system, it will need to delay or cancel about $4 billion to $4.5 billion in planned projects, according to a DOT document.
The bonding limits placed on the program by Lamont would, according to his own DOT, have significant impacts on the capital program, severely constricting the number of new projects that were scheduled to advance this year and in years ahead.
McCaw said the projects that have already been approved will move forward, but there’s no guarantee for any project that hasn’t received approval.
Lamont has further said he doesn’t want to increase the gas tax — “that’s a disastrous idea.”
The governor reversed himself over the weekend in calling for tolls on all motor vehicles, rather than truck-only tolls as he had said on the campaign trail. On an editorial published by Hearst Connecticut Media newspapers over the weekend, Lamont said truck-only tolls wouldn’t get Connecticut the revenue it needs to improve its infrastructure.
“The gasoline tax simply does not provide the reliable revenue we need, period,” Lamont wrote in the editorial. “Gasoline tax revenues have been flat for 10 years and are expected to begin declining as cars become more efficient, and as the sales of electric vehicles increase.”