HARTFORD, CT — Gov. Ned Lamont encouraged lawmakers negotiating a toll proposal to move forward with the legislation and get a vote.
“I’m ready for them to bring that out to the floor. Let’s get that to see the light of day and have a vote on it,” Lamont said.
However, Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, who co-chairs the Transportation Committee, said they’re not there yet. He said they’re still working on some details and “getting close.”
With less than four weeks left in the legislative session, Leone acknowledged the need to get it done sooner rather than later, but he doesn’t want to rush it. He said he would rather get it right and wait on a vote.
But Lamont, who has used all of his political capital on this proposal, is anxious for a vote. He said there’s very little left to negotiate and he’s ready for them to call the amendment.
“We’ve got a bill out there with a solution to our long-term transportation needs,” Lamont said.
The problem is most lawmakers haven’t seen it, which makes it difficult to get a vote count. Some lawmakers are refusing to commit to voting for something they have yet to read.
Lamont sought to offer lawmakers additional money in the short-term to help make sure the current transportation system doesn’t fall into a state of disrepair. He also sought to offer a compromise to having the full General Assembly vote on a toll plan, if it receives approval from the Federal Highway Administration.
“I heard you when you said that you wanted more line-of-sight into the state’s long-range transportation planning and development, which is why the bill creates a Connecticut Transportation Commission — a bipartisan group of legislators, commissioners and the treasurer, to review and approve DOT’s plan,” Lamont wrote in a letter to lawmakers Thursday. “And let’s harness the opportunity that short-term borrowing provides us, and invest $100 million in rail and transit across the state.”
Instead of the $250 million in general obligation bonds the bipartisan budget proposed in 2018, Lamont is looking to reduce that to $100 million.
“Tolls would be a standalone bill, but it doesn’t make sense to do tolls if we don’t do a short-term fix,” Leone said Thursday.
Lamont said the $100 million he wants to spend would be focused mainly on rail, such as Shoreline East and Metro-North.
“We want to get this going soon,” Lamont said. “But the real thing is how do you have a sustainable revenue stream to fix our transportation. Nobody has a better idea than tolling. If we borrow the money it’s 110 percent paid for by us. The 10 percent is the interest rate you’ll be paying every couple of years.”
Lamont said Friday that the tolling proposal will still include 50 gantries on I-84, I-91, I-95 and Route 15. There were rumors that Lamont would take tolls off Route 15 to get more votes from lawmakers from Fairfield and New Haven County, but his staff insisted that’s not going to be part of the proposal.
Lamont said they are working on making sure they’re able to give a discount to working families and pre-load that onto their EZ-Pass.
“I also know that we need to do something to help families who are getting squeezed, which is why our bill allows for a monthly credit loaded on an EZ-Pass, as well as ways to load cash on the passes at local convenience stores,” Lamont said in his letter Thursday.
Lamont had the press conference Friday at the Hartford Regional Market near the Charter Oak Bridge interchange where traffic was crawling. He was surrounded by labor, business, and local elected officials who endorsed the concept of tolls.
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said he’s still disappointed the governor remains unwilling to consider alternatives.
“The proposal outlined in Gov. Lamont’s letter today is the same ‘plan’ he has been talking about for months. It is a plan that is based on hypothetical sketch numbers, that has never been shared with the federal government, and that takes the full General Assembly out of the decision making when it comes to how tolls will actually impact our residents and local communities,” Fasano said. “Gov. Lamont’s proposal is a new tax not only on residents here and now, but on all future generations who will be paying tolls for years to come.”
Republicans have proposed using about $700 million a year, currently earmarked for other capital projects for transportation without borrowing more than $1.9 billion a year.