Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo
Rep. Laura Devlin, R-Fairfield (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo)

HARTFORD, CT — In anticipation of Wednesday’s public hearing on two tolling bills, the House and Senate Republicans held a press conference to encourage the public to flood the capitol in opposition to the idea.

Republican lawmakers, who are now firmly in the minority, said Connecticut needs to invest in its transportation infrastructure but no through congestion tolls on most highways.

“Don’t get distracted by the number of gantries,” Rep. Laura Devlin, R-Fairfield, said. “Don’t get get distracted on whether or not we will have discounts for Connecticut residents.”

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Devlin said any plan they have seen includes a revenue target of $1 billion—a majority of which will be raised by Connecticut residents.

A 2018 study by a Department of Transportation consultant estimated that 30 percent of the toll revenue would come from out-of-state residents.

Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano said “tolls is a euphemism for what this really is—this is a mileage tax.”

He said that’s why the proposals include so many gantries.

Gov. Ned Lamont has proposed 53 gantries and the 2018 DOT study based its revenue model on 82 gantries.

Fasano said they need so many gantries in order to collect the $1 billion in revenue.

Fasano said Republicans have a plan to prioritize what Connecticut puts on its credit card to make sure it goes to improving Connecticut’s roads and bridges.

The proposal is called “Prioritize Progress” and the Republicans released the plan four years ago.

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said bonding isn’t necessarily bad if it’s done in a responsible way.

Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, panned the Republican proposal.

“If your family needs a new $1,000 refrigerator you have two options. Under the GOP plan you can put it on your credit card and pay it off over decades which will end up costing you $1,500. Or you can choose the Democratic plan and pay $600 while capturing nearly $400 from people from out-of-state,” Looney said.

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Maribel La Luz, Lamont’s spokeswoman, said there’s “agreement from everyone on two things: our transportation system needs enhancements and upgrades because it’s too congested and inhibits our growth, and Connecticut residents should be the least burdened. To address this, the governor is proposing a user fee on our major highways where at least 40 percent would be paid by out of state commuters. Borrowing the money, aka Prioritize Progress, means 100 percent plus interest would be paid by our kids and grandkids.  Every other state around us has figured this out, so can Connecticut.”

Republicans were critical of the percentage of out-of-state drivers estimated by Lamont because out-of-state drivers would be able to purchase Connecticut EZ passes to get the in-state discounts.

Lamont is proposing gantries on Interstates 84, 91, 95 and Route 15. He also wants to shift a larger share of the burden to out-of-state drivers. By limiting the gantries to those interstates, Lamont said his DOT is projecting that he could get close to 50 percent of the revenue from out-of-state drivers. He also proposes a reduce rate of at least 30 percent to Connecticut EZPass holders.

The bills would also remove some of the decision making about tolls and toll rates from the legislature and give it to an unelected authority.

“These bills give the power for decisions outside the legislature,” Devlin said. “It’s pretty incredible. We should have a conversation about public-private partnerships, but we’re not having those conversations.”

How would Connecticut enter into a public-private partnership if it didn’t have a revenue stream to offer a private entity?

Fasano said if they could enter a public-private relationship and toll the high occupancy vehicle lanes only to give motorists a choice of whether they want to pay a toll or sit in traffic.

“It is a false choice to say tolls and transportation infrastructure or no tolls and no transportation infrastructure,” Fasano said.

What Fasano is proposing above is a limited toll plan which he said he’s willing to entertain.

The public hearing on the two bills that would allow for tolling will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday in room 1E of the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

Republicans pan tolls a day before public hearing

Posted by on Tuesday, March 5, 2019