HARTFORD, CT — (Updated 9:30 p.m.) As he unveiled his revised transportation plan on Thursday, Gov. Ned Lamont was backed by labor and members of the Business Council of Fairfield County. But Democratic legislative leaders were nowhere to be seen during the event at the reSET co-working space in Hartford, suggesting that the administration still has its work cut out if they hope to pass the plan in the near future.
The 10-year, $21.1-billion plan includes the installation of tolls in 14 locations. The toll rates would be capped at between $0.50 and $1, but there’s no guarantee they would come down in 27 years when the federal low-interest loans are paid. Lamont said he could write it into the contract to give people “legal confidence” that it gets done.
“There was a question about trust in government and no one wants to do anything because we don’t trust government and we’ve had that for 200 years in this country,” Lamont said.
Lamont said his job is to tell the truth.
“I know the middle class is getting squeezed,” Lamont said. “I also know that we’re never going to get jobs back in this state unless we fix our transportation system in an honest way.”
Lamont was backed by labor and the Business Council of Fairfield County during his announcement Thursday.
“Everyone agrees we need to get this done,” Sal Lucanio, president of the AFL-CIO, said.
He said the question is how the state finances it. “You can raise taxes. You can borrow the money with interest or you can charge user fees. The first two options fall solely on Connecticut residents.”
Lamont’s plan assumes that 38% to 40% of the tolls will be paid by out-of-state commuters.
Joe McGee, vice president of policy for the Business Council of Fairfield County, said they knew in the 1990s that if they didn’t invest in their infrastructure “we would have slow economic growth. Our companies were telling us that.”
What did Connecticut do? Nothing, according to McGee.
“Things were so good for so long we avoided this,” he added.
The revenue from the tolls would be used to pay off the low-interest loans from the federal government, but what if Connecticut was unable to get a loan from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Build America Bureau would the plan still include tolls?
“I’ve still got a Special Transportation Fund that’s going bankrupt in five years,” Lamont said. “I still have bridges in a state of incredible disrepair so to me to say I’m going to walk away from everything unless I get exactly what I want from the federal Department of Transportation that doesn’t solve the problem.”
Lamont said they are going to continue to push to make it bipartisan, but it’s unclear if they are going to find much success. Lamont said he’s going to push forward regardless of Republican support because “it’s the best interest of the state of Connecticut.”
Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said he can’t support the governor’s plan because there isn’t enough trust in government to collect a new revenue stream. But he was uncertain about when Republicans might be able to develop a non-toll alternative.
“The issue comes down to how to finance this thing,” Fasano said.
He said the difficulty they have with the plan is “trust in government.”
“It’s an extraordinarily huge hurdle to get over. How do you trust these tolls are going to come down?” Fasano said.
The 10-year contract will protect toll rates from going up, but it doesn’t guarantee that the toll gantry would come down.
“What you can’t protect against is leaving the tolls there longer,” Fasano said.
Unable to embrace a plan with tolls Fasano said they would look at coming up with an alternative to share with Lamont.
Fasano said he thinks there’s a pathway toward a plan without tolls,, but he’s not certain what it looks like.
McGee said there’s no “legitimate other option.”
Lamont said he was still discussing the timing with legislative leaders and it’s unclear if anything would be introduced in a special session in order to move forward this year, or if they’ll need to wait until next year.
At least two members of No Tolls CT attended Thursday’s event.
“Connecticut residents already pay some of the highest gas taxes in the nation,” Patrick Sasser, founder of No Tolls CT, said. “For several years now state officials have been diverting money from the STF and now expect us to pay more. No way.”
Deputy Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said he appreciates the governor’s passion, but “I don’t see anything in his latest plan that will change the minds of residents who justifiably worry about the escalating cost of living here. On top of that, there’s a major trust issue — people don’t believe that the costs he and majority Democrats promise today will be the same a year from now. They aren’t doing themselves any favors either by trying to rebrand tolls as ‘user fees’.”