Christine Stuart / ctneewsjunkie file photo
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano (Christine Stuart / ctneewsjunkie file photo)

HARTFORD, CT — Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano and House Minority Leader Themis Klarides spent nearly three hours Friday explaining their “Prioritize Progress” transportation plan to the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee.

It was the first year the proposal, which for four years has been part of the Republican budget, received a public hearing.

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Klarides said the plan stays below the bonding cap and commits $65 billion over the next 30 years to transportation by adding some general obligation bonding to the Special Transportation Fund.

“Prioritize Progress seeks to reprioritize General Obligation bonding to ensure it is used for needs including transportation, not wants. It does not require tolls or new taxes,” Fasano insisted.

The legislation has been pitched by Republicans as an alternative to Gov. Ned Lamont’s proposal to install 50 electronic toll gantries on four Connecticut highways to raise around $800 million.

Both sides agree something needs to be done about Connecticut’s structurally deficient bridges and roads, but they’ve been unable to reach an agreement about how best to fund it.

Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven, said they both agree they need about $750 million in federal funding per year and expect to spend about $750 million to $800 million on roads out of the Special Transportation Fund.

“You as well as us agree we need more if we’re going to meet the tremendous needs of our transportation system currently has,” Lemar said.

He said he thinks they actually agree that Lamont’s “short-term proposal doesn’t work.”

But he believes the “rhetoric has gotten ahead of what we’re trying to accomplish.”

“We identified a tolling program that we feel based upon guidance from the federal government will allow us to create the most cost-efficient system in the country,” Lemar said. “And we think we’ll collect 30 to 40 percent from out-of-state residents.”

He said Republicans blocked them in the past from getting the specific information the Republicans now want about tolling from the Federal Highway Administration.

Fasano said he thinks “tolling is a bad policy.”

He has called it the “toll monster” in the past.

“I think it’s just the wrong policy for the state,” Fasano said. “We already have so many taxes and we’re viewed as a state, whether we like it or not, that taxes everything that happens.”

Assistant Treasurer Sarah Sanders said she’s read the Republican plan and is concerned it would crowd out other general obligation bonding.

“There seems to be a discounting of the governor’s debt diet,” Sanders said. “And an assumption that we’re going to issue $1.9 billion either way and I’m not sure I accept that.”

Sanders told Rep. Laura Devlin, R-Fairfield, that Lamont is serious about the debt diet and the Republican proposal to prioritize bonding assumes the state will continue borrowing $1.9 billion a year when that’s not what the governor has said.

“I felt the governor was quite serious about his debt diet,” Sanders said.

She said that assuming the state issues less than the $1.9 billion, “I do think there will be competition for availability,” of bonds. She said the governor is proposing significantly less and has been representing that to investors.

Fasano said he believes $1.9 billion will continue to be the cap on bonding and “it is not going to get lower.”

Colleen Flanagan Johnson, Lamont’s senior adviser, said Republicans and Democrats agree that the state’s infrastructure is a mess.

However, “The Republicans want to take out a massive loan that the state cannot afford — to the tune of $11.2 billion — and are asking you and your kids and grandkids to pay 100 percent of the principal and interest,” Flanagan Johnson said. “The Democrats’ plan focuses on a reliable, sustainable revenue source, 40 percent of which will be paid for by out-of-state drivers, and offers discounts to in-state drivers, as well as ways to mitigate the impact on low-income individuals and families. We’ve heard of the ‘Bridge to Nowhere,’ but ‘Prioritize Borrowing,’ in reality, represents the ‘Highway to Hell’.”