Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo

HARTFORD, CT — On his 100th day in office, Gov. Ned Lamont, a former cable executive, tackled the issue that may define his time in office: electronic highway tolls.

“How do I speed up Metro-North? How do I end the gridlock on 84 and 95? And what a difference that makes in terms of jobs and opportunity,” Lamont said. “I’ve come up with a solution. It’s not a popular solution, but it’s a real solution.”

Lamont wants to raise an additional $800 million a year through tolls on four highways to help pay for improvements to Connecticut infrastructure. At the same time, he wants to put about $500 to $600 million less on Connecticut’s credit card.

Lamont pointed out that based partly on his announcement to stop borrowing as much money as his predecessors, a Wall Street credit rating firm upgraded its outlook for Connecticut bonds from stable to positive for the first time in 18 years. And the recent sale of Connecticut bonds was oversubscribed.

But tolls, which is viewed as just another tax, is a non-starter for many lawmakers.

Republican lawmakers have again pitched their plan to prioritize bonding which favors putting $700 million toward transportation. It’s a pitch they’ve been making for four years now, but they say it’s a more viable alternative to tolls because it would increase funding for these projects immediately. Lamont’s toll proposal will take between three to five years to implement and it could take up to seven years to realize all the revenue from tolls.

“More borrowing is what got us into the mess we’re in,” Lamont said.

He said it’s a “false choice” between increases in taxes to borrow more or tolls, which Lamont called a “user fee.”

He said every single business leader he talks to “says in order for us to grow and expand right here in the state of Connecticut it’s got to be easier for me to get my customers and my employees to work.”

He said he’s got to convince people it’s not “No tolls. It’s tolls or taxes.”

“I want to users of the highways to pay this,” Lamont said. “A lot of them come from out-of-state, a lot of them are trucker companies and some of them are Connecticut citizens, I appreciate that. We’re going to do the maximum discount for them—maybe a free gantry.”

Lamont’s pitch to install tolls on Connecticut highways has caused a large number of people to organize against the idea.

The business community is divided over the issue of tolls.

The Business Council of Fairfield County is supporting tolls, and outlines the reasons why on its website, while the Connecticut Business and Industry Association has not taken a position.

Joe Brennan, president and CEO of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said there’s widespread agreement about the need to improve the infrastructure and reduce congestion, particularly along the I-95 corridor, “we just can’t get consensus right now on where those funds will come from.”

He said in a poll of their membership shows a slight majority is in favor of electronic tolling “but the devil is in the details.”

The 14-member Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth endorsed the idea of tolls and went even further calling for the addition of seven cents to Connecticut’s 25-cents-per-gallon retail gasoline tax.

Asked if he was willing to cut the gas tax if the legislature approves tolls, Lamont said “we can do a lot of things that give people confidence that we understand I’m asking them to make a little sacrifice for the future of the state.”

However, Lamont wouldn’t entertain the idea of cutting the gas tax until the legislature approves tolls.

Gov Ned Lamont takes a number of questions from reporters during meeting in his office to offically mark his 100th day in office.

Posted by CTNewsJunkie.com on Thursday, April 18, 2019