HARTFORD, CT — Gov. Ned Lamont stood alone at a podium Tuesday morning and pointed to statements made by business leaders about the transportation proposal he released last week.
CEOs and presidents of companies like Boehringer Ingelheim, Stanley Black & Decker, Aetna, The Hartford, and Travelers applauded Lamont’s willingness to tackle the issue of transportation. But none of them was actually in the room.
“Fixing the state’s transportation infrastructure is an essential component to improve Connecticut’s competitiveness, economic development and growth, as well as to improve the quality of life for all residents,” Stanley Black & Decker CEO Jim Loree said via email. “While no one wants to increase costs to Connecticut residents, we believe the proposal provides reasonable funding mechanisms for a statewide, comprehensive transportation plan.”
And it appears that none of the executives explicitly endorsed Lamont’s proposal to finance $21 billion of improvements over 10 years.
“They think we have a responsible plan to pay for this,” Lamont insisted.
Installing 14 electronic toll gantries on bridges and various chokepoints is causing lawmakers, especially those in the state Senate, to worry about whether they would survive a re-election bid next year if they vote for Lamont’s toll proposal.
The tolls would be the revenue stream the state would use to obtain low-interest loans from the federal government to make the improvements.
“Nobody wants to borrow more. Nobody wants to play other games,” Lamont said. “They want to fix this once and for all.”
How does that get Lamont 18 votes in the state Senate?
“I’m gonna work them day-in and day-out because it’s the most important thing we can do to get the state moving again,” Lamont said.
Lawmakers were absent from Lamont’s initial announcement last Thursday.
On Wednesday, Lamont and his staff will speak with Democratic senators. He’s already briefed the House Democrats and House and Senate Republicans.
Republican lawmakers have decided not to support Lamont’s proposal and may offer their own alternative.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said the last time Senate Democrats caucused a plan was six months ago, when Lamont was pitching 50 toll gantries. That number is down to 14 in the latest proposal.
“I still think the best approach to this would be to have a bipartisan bill,” Looney said Monday. “I don’t think it’s governmentally healthy to have it be strictly partisan.”
Looney suggested that a third alternative for transportation funding could be to fund it out of legalizing marijuana and sports gambling.
Lamont said he didn’t believe the Trump administration would approve recreational marijuana or sports gambling as a reliable revenue stream.
It’s also unlikely legal marijuana and gaming would raise the $320 million a year that the administration is banking on from tolls. The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated in 2018 that legalizing marijuana would bring in about $46 million in revenue. Estimates for revenue from sports betting are between $30 and $40 million.
That’s far short of the revenue stream the state needs to secure federal financing.
Lamont said he would continue to promote his plan directly to the public with a series of town halls around the state.
“We can’t afford to wait,” Lamont said. “The Special Transportation Fund goes underwater in less than five years. Now is the time for us to step up and do the right thing.”
But even the business community would like to see bipartisan support.
“We commend the governor for bringing forth a detailed plan to address statewide transportation issues,” Aetna’s Hartford-based President Karen Lynch said in an email to CTNewsJunkie. “We’ll continue to review the different aspects of the plan and encourage a bipartisan dialogue going forward.”
Loree said via email he would “urge our state legislators to set aside their partisan differences and embrace the Governor’s plan. Connecticut’s ability to attract and retain businesses for healthy economic growth and job creation depends on it.”
Lamont said business leaders were unable to attend the press conference Tuesday because “they’re investing in the state of Connecticut, hiring people and making a profit. That’s what they do.”