HARTFORD, CT — Behind closed doors Wednesday, the Senate Democratic caucus politely told Gov. Ned Lamont that they couldn’t vote in favor of his $21-billion transportation plan if it included tolls.
But the message may not have been that clear.
“We did not take an actual headcount in the caucus on who was where,” Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said.
So are tolls dead for now?
“We don’t want to draw a conclusion on it yet,” Looney said after the two-hour meeting.
Lamont exited the two-hour meeting and said he told the Senators he knew he was asking them to “cast a tough vote,” but that his plan was a good plan.
“The governor did say he was going to reflect on what he heard and was going to consider some alternatives,” Looney said.
Looney wouldn’t officially say that the plan, including 14 tolls to fund work at specific chokepoint locations around the state, was dead. He’s waiting on Lamont to react to what he heard Wednesday in the caucus.
As Lamont exited the caucus, he said the Senators told him there’s “some political issues here” — a handful of Senators are concerned about their re-election bids in 2020 if they vote for a plan that includes tolls.
“I’ve gotta convince some people who have great distrust of government that this is the best investment we can make to get this state growing again,” Lamont said.
He said he told them he’s sorry he’s asking them to cast a hard vote.
“I know we’d all love to put this off,” Lamont said. “I’ve got a plan on the table if anyone has an alternative, speak now.”
Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff said what happened today was that there was agreement that something needed to be done about Connecticut’s crumbling transportation infrastructure.
“There isn’t full agreement on funding at the moment and the governor’s going to reflect today on what he heard on caucus,” Duff said.
As far as financing is concerned, “If there is a will to find alternatives, they will be found,” Looney said.
Looney has suggested legalizing both recreational marijuana and sports betting could create revenue streams that the state could dedicate to transportation, even though that revenue would be unable to unlock the low-interest rate loans from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Build America Bureau.
Lamont had planned to use the 14 tolls as the revenue stream to secure the low-interest loans.
Looney said they didn’t discuss any particulars Wednesday about what alternative revenue streams they could use instead of tolls.
“There was a general acknowledgement there are other approaches that could be taken,” Looney said.
What’s the timetable?
“We are generally of the opinion that we do want to get this done as soon as possible,” Looney said. “And we want to move onto other issues for the 2020 session … and not have this issue as a cloud over everything else that we do.”
But he also said he wants to address the issue.
There’s no date by which Lamont plans to return to the Senate Democratic caucus with a revised plan.
Lamont said he wants to collaborate on a path forward in a way that’s responsible and minimizes the impact on Connecticut taxpayers.
Patrick Sasser, one of the founders of a group called No Tolls CT, was at the state Capitol Wednesday.
He said he’s waiting for Republican Senate Leader Len Fasano to come up with an alternative that doesn’t include tolls.
He said he doesn’t want to have to spend the next year finding candidates to run against any state representative or senator who votes in favor of tolls.
He said it’s much bigger than tolls. He said Connecticut residents are just fed up with the amount of taxes they pay.