HARTFORD, CT — The rhetoric regarding the installation of highway tolls has intensified over the past few days in anticipation of the first committee vote on the issue.
The General Assembly’s Transportation Committee is scheduled to vote on at least one bill Wednesday that could pave the way for electronic tolling.
Early Monday morning, Gov. Ned Lamont, who proposed the installation of electronic tolls as part of his first two-year budget, was in Milford near the 114-year-old Devon Bridge. The bridge is an integral component of the Metro-North New Haven Line and is in need of replacement.
After supporting the concept of truck-only tolls on the campaign trail, Lamont decided to offer proposals to toll all vehicles as part of his budget.
Even though it was well-publicized that Connecticut’s transportation fund was on track to become insolvent without a new revenue structure, Lamont didn’t change his mind about tolls on all vehicles until after he was elected.
Since taking office, Lamont has said he does not support raising the gasoline tax, which he believes is already too high, nor the use of “priority bonding” that would borrow to support transportation funding and add to the state’s debt.
Republicans have continued to pitch their plan to prioritize bonding to pay for infrastructure improvements.
“Under our plan, we could create construction jobs now and immediately start work on the roads and bridges that need attention right away,” Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano and Sen. Henri Martin, R-Bristol, said in a statement. “The governor’s tolls plan will take at least five years to get up and running; and in the meantime, the governor’s budget swipes funding for transportation, stealing infrastructure dollars to use elsewhere.”
The Lamont administration pushed back against the Republican narrative, which points out that Lamont freezes money from the new car sales tax scheduled to go into the special transportation fund. The money would have kept the fund solvent for longer than anticipated under Lamont’s budget proposal.
“The idea that the Republican plan does not take any additional money from taxpayers is laughable. Since when is borrowed money free?” Colleen Flanagan Johnson, Lamont’s senior adviser, said. “Their idea to ‘Prioritize Borrowing’ will result in an income tax increase, doesn’t fix the deficit in the Special Transportation Fund, and saddles Connecticut taxpayers — including our kids and grandkids — with 100 percent of the cost of principal plus interest. And, with that level of borrowing, programs such as municipal aid and school construction will be drastically cut.”
Lamont and toll supporters argue that 40 percent of the toll revenue will come from out-of-state drivers. They argue that borrowing to pay for the improvements relies on only Connecticut taxpayers.
Republicans argue the state could adopt their plan and immediately start making improvements.
“Instead, the governor’s plan would allow Connecticut’s infrastructure to deteriorate for another five years or more, worsening the state’s problems so that tolls can be seen as a savior,” Fasano and Martin said.
Tolls were removed from Connecticut’s highways in 1985.
Lamont proposed putting tolls on Interstates 84, 91 and 95 and Route 15. The proposal calls for installing about 53 overhead tolling gantries on some 330 miles of roadway.