HARTFORD, CT — Gov. Ned Lamont wants a second chance to convince lawmakers to approve the installation of electronic tolls on Connecticut highways to help modernize Connecticut’s transportation system.
Lamont pitched legislative leaders from both parties Wednesday on tolls after presenting them what he felt was the reality of Connecticut’s transportation system.
“We could be subject to some penalties if we don’t get our roads and bridges up to a state of good repair,” Lamont said.
Office of Policy and Management Secretary Melissa McCaw said the state faces a $1 billion deficit in the Special Transportation Fund by 2030. She said the transfer of the new car sales tax only buys the state about three or four years of solvency before the “sea of red numbers,” hits.
But the deficit won’t appear for another 10 years and lawmakers have a hard time thinking beyond the two year re-election cycle. There’s also a mistrust about what the state will do with the money once it gets it.
A Power Point presentation Lamont’s administration shared with legislative leaders said in order to maintain a state of “good repair” the state needs to borrow and toll $875 million from 2021 and 2023 and $1.2 billion in 2024. That includes the transfer of all of the new car sales tax and a reduction in bus fares from $1.75 to $1. In order to improve Connecticut’s transportation system beyond a state of good repair, he would need to borrow and toll $875 million in 2021 and 2023 and $2 billion a year starting in 2024.
Following a two-hour, closed door meeting with legislative leaders Wednesday, Lamont said he’s still optimistic about his chances even though he admitted that he doesn’t believe they found “a toll bridge to connect us.”
Lamont said Wednesday was an opportunity for a “fresh start” and he will be “reaching out every day to Republicans as well as Democrats to see if we can get there.”
Republican legislative leaders said there’s no vote in favor of tolls in their caucuses.
At the same time, Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said they wouldn’t be in the room if Lamont had the votes for tolls with only Democrats.
Lamont said he understands there’s a lot of history and mistrust in government.
“There’s just a sense that any money spent is money misspent by a government,” Lamont said. ”I’ve tried to convince people this is the best investment we can make to get this state growing again.”
Lamont also pitched widening I-95 west of New Haven as something they can do to reduce congestion and reduce bottlenecks. He said they can save 22 minutes on a commute to New York by widening I-95 in certain areas.
Patrick Sasser of No Tolls CT said the plan to divert $172 million from the Special Transportation Fund as part of the budget plan the governor has yet to sign just shows Lamont is not serious about maintaining the fund.
“How can you say that transportation funding is the most critical factor in Connecticut’s business climate and then take money away from the Special Transportation Fund?” Sasser asked. “The plain and simple truth is that the governor and other lawmakers just want tolls. Period. And that is no way to earn the trust of the people of Connecticut.”
Lamont didn’t do himself any favors when he first announced in February that he was in favor of tolling all vehicles, rather than the plan to only toll trucks that he had discussed during his election campaign.
The proposal was made in an editorial and a short video and emailed to reporters on a Saturday morning in February.
“I’ve got to make a case how vital it is that we fix up our transportation system,” Lamont said earlier this week. “You can bond for it more, put more debt on the back of taxpayers. You can have a user fee. That’s what we’ve got to discuss. Or is there something in between?”
Lamont said he knows he’s asking lawmakers to take a tough vote.
“I’m asking them to make a tough vote that’s going to really be for the long-term future of the state, not immediate gratification. And I’ve got make that case every day.”
Lamont also twice told reporters that the legislature had fallen short of their task.
“I’ve got a lot of people in this building who don’t like to make tough decisions and certainly don’t like to pay their bills,” Lamont said.
He said lawmakers love to borrow and push it off to the next generation, but he’s unwilling to do that when it comes to transportation.
Making that case when lawmakers are not in session may make Lamont’s pitch even harder.
In order to convince some lawmakers to vote in favor of tolls, Lamont’s also proposed an income tax credit for individuals and families making less than $145,000 a year.
The credit would be between $90 for single filers and $180 for couples. It would cost the state about $100 million in revenue every year and would be in addition to a frequent user credit of 20 percent.
That’s in addition to the 30 percent in-state EZ-Pass discount for Connecticut residents.
The legislature still needs to come into special session to approve the annual bonding bill, which authorizes capital expenditures. However, Lamont has not specifically called lawmakers back for a vote on tolls and legislative leaders decided to leave it up to the governor.