HARTFORD, CT — Gov. Ned Lamont is trying to compromise on his “debt diet” and reduce the number of tolls that might appear on Connecticut roadways in order to get the General Assembly to approve some form of tolling.
Last week, Lamont’s Office of Policy and Management Secretary, Melissa McCaw, sent a letter to lawmakers explaining that the governor was open to a compromise “which will include some bonding for this necessary and timely investment.”
Lamont had wanted to put up around 50 tolling gantries on four highways and use the additional revenue to improve transportation infrastructure without adding to Connecticut’s annual debt through bonding. But he was unable to sell that idea to lawmakers during his first six months in office, so he’s trying something new.
McCaw said the governor would agree to increase his self-imposed borrowing limit from $1 billion to $1.3 billion. But before he does that he would like a firm commitment from lawmakers that $100-million a year of that general obligation bonding will be used for transportation infrastructure.
“Of course, this will require reductions to other proposed new bond authorizations but given the legislature’s desire to prioritize borrowing in addition to or in lieu of an electronic proposal, I believe there must be a will to make this happen,” McCaw wrote.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said he thinks it’s a move toward compromise, but the reality is the governor has already shown that he’s committed to a debt diet. Looney cited the two Bond Commission meetings Lamont has held.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, remains a proponent of tolls and is open to funding options for transportation, but has not had any further discussions with the governor on getting there, according to a spokesman.
The governor also controls the Bond Commission agenda and can decide how much bonding to allocate in any given year.
Looney said cutting the bond authorizations and earmarking money for transportation is largely “symbolic.”
Looney said the governor has yet to flesh out exactly what the reduced tolling proposal would look like.
It could be limited to tolls on cars and trucks over 10 or more bridges.
“None of it has been pinned down with any precision,” Looney said.
Republican Senate Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said he’s always willing to talk, but he added, “I just think more debt and tolls is not the answer.”
He said even if they agree to approve a limited number of tolls on bridges it boils down to a trust issue.
“The problem is trust once you open up the law to say you can toll then it’s out of your hands,” Fasano said.
Colleen Flanagan Johnson, Lamont’s senior adviser, said whatever is announced next will be done in collaboration with legislative leadership.
However, it will likely hold up discussions about the larger bond package.
The General Assembly is expected to return for a veto session on Monday, July 22, and could possibly adopt the borrowing it needs for school construction, but it still needs to work out how much bonding it would authorize and that now hinges on the governor’s transportation proposal.
“The governor’s staff and OPM continue to have positive conversations with the Democratic leaders on the best way to move transportation forward, which directly impacts the bond package,” Flanagan Johnson said.
Based on those negotiations, it’s unclear when a bond package will be approved or if the General Assembly will move forward to authorize bridge tolls.