Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo
Rep. Roland Lemar, co-chairs the Transportation Committee (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo)

HARTFORD, CT — As the legislature gets closer to approving tolls, it’s also distancing itself from the process by debating legislation that would create a transportation authority, like the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

“I don’t understand why anyone wants to be like the MTA in New York,” Joe Sculley, president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut, told the Transportation Committee on Monday. “They have sky-high tolls … and they’re $38 billion in debt.”

CLICK TO VOTE ON 2019 SB 423: An Act Concerning The Creation Of A Connecticut Transportation Authority.

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Sculley was testifying on a bill that would “create an authority dedicated to overseeing and prioritizing transportation projects.”

Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven, said the bill was added to Monday’s public hearing agenda because Monday was their deadline to have a hearing on proposed bills. He said the concept is also included in other bills that more directly deal with revenue ideas like tolls to fund improvements to Connecticut’s roads, bridges, and rail.

Sculley said if these transportation authorities are so great then how come none of them have any money?

He also asked why the state of Connecticut would want to “abdicate” all of its control to an unelected board that’s going to establish tolls on almost every highway in the state?

“This is worse than just tolls,” Sculley said. “If people want tolls then put up a tolls bill and just vote for it don’t try to go through this quasi-government body.”

Another bill that will receive a public hearing on Wednesday calls for the establishment of a Connecticut Transportation Finance Authority.

The Connecticut Transportation Finance Authority would have control over bond funds, be tasked with coming up with a five-year capital plan for the state, and would be required to establish a Connecticut Infrastructure Bank. Once a toll system is implemented the legislation would allow the authority to set the toll rates.

CLICK TO VOTE ON 2019 HB 7280: An Act Concerning Support For Transportation Infrastructure And The Creation Of The Connecticut Transportation Finance Authority.

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“This is not representative government,” Patrick Sasser, head of No Tolls CT, said. “This provision allows the state to impose a massive tax increase on the people of the state without even holding a vote. It’s another example of how tolls are being forced on us.”

Sasser said the authority would be able to raise the toll rate without a vote of the General Assembly.

“This is not what Connecticut — the Constitution State — is about,” he added.

Sculley said when “you set it up so that blame can be deflected,” that’s not “what most people in the state of Connecticut want.”

But the Special Transportation Fund will be in deficit again by 2023 under Gov. Ned Lamont’s budget proposal if the General Assembly doesn’t do something like tolls to increase revenues to the fund.

“I think we have to consider all options when we’re talking about how we address the sheer number of bridges that are rated deficient and in substandard condition. When we’re looking at the thousands of lane miles that we have, that we can barely pave potholes on — never mind maintain to a 21st century standard,” Lemar said. “… We need to find the capacity to invest in the future.”

How that investment takes place or how the revenue is raised is still open to debate. A public hearing on tolls will be held Wednesday at 11 a.m. in Room 1E of the Legislative Office Building.

“I’m open to what that structure would be that would be the most efficient, responsible use of tax dollars that come into the state,” Lemar said.

CLICK TO VOTE ON 2019 SB 70: An Act Establishing The Connecticut Infrastructure Bank

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Sen. Alex Bergstein, D-Greenwich, has proposed an infrastructure bank as a way to leverage public-private partnerships and lower the amount it costs Connecticut to pave a road.

Bergstein said it’s a financing model that’s been used in Europe and Asia for decades.

She said it would leverage over $80 trillion in private investment dollars and allow Connecticut to deliver projects at a lower cost through better credit ratings on the bonds.

As part of his first budget proposal, Lamont canceled the $250 million transfer of general obligations bonds to the Special Transportation Fund and proposed freezing the new car sales tax transfer. Internal documents from the Department of Transportation say $2 billion a year is necessary to keep up with current maintenance and construction, but Lamont’s administration has yet to release a list of canceled projects believing that it can continue at the current pace without additional funds.

Don Shubert, president of the Connecticut Construction Industries Association, has said the governor’s proposed cap on transportation bonding “will curtail programmed projects and exacerbate the deteriorating condition of our transportation systems. It will shut down projects that will address congestion and safety.”