HARTFORD, CT — House Democrats told Gov. Ned Lamont Tuesday that car tolls are off the table.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz and House Majority Leader asked Lamont to consider truck-only tolls on 12 of the 14 bridges that are part of the governor’s transportation plan.
House leadership would eliminate the tolls on Route 9 and the Wilbur Cross and Merritt Parkways.
“We appreciate Governor Lamont’s continued commitment to fixing Connecticut’s transportation system,” Aresimowicz said. “Our caucus feels strongly that we must make investments in our roads, bridges and trains to grow our economy, but that tolling cars is not the way forward.”
Lamont had campaigned on truck-only tolls only to shift his position shortly after being sworn into office.
“A guiding principle of CT2030 is a dedicated revenue stream, which in large part comes from out-of-state drivers,” Lamont said in a statement. “This proposal adheres to that basic principle, albeit to a lesser extent, but is a concept that the governor has explored in the past and one that should be considered among the other plans.”
Lamont said he’s recommending that all caucuses be prepared to bring these proposals to a meeting in his office as soon as possible.
“Trucks do 80-percent of the damage to our roads and bridges and many come from out of state,” House Majority Leader Matt Ritter said. “We believe that truck-only tolls on select bridges, in a manner similar to what other states do, are legal and will provide Connecticut with the revenue stream needed to secure low interest federal transportation loans.”
Deputy House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said Connecticut residents “have heard the promise of trucks-only tolling once before, so I doubt frustrated taxpayers will view this proposal from a caucus that was fine with a 50-gantry plan as anything but a Trojan horse to install a full-blown tolling program throughout the state in the future.”
Aresimowicz and Ritter believe the new proposal for truck-only tolls avoids the potential legal peril that was faced by the governor’s original plan for truck-only tolls on the interstate highway system by placing truck-only tolls on select bridges. The tolls for trucks would be permanent under the Democratic plan and it would seek to prohibit car tolls in the future, Ritter said.
“I’m sick of people talking about camels and their noses and proverbial tents, or slippery slopes,” Ritter said. “Tolling trucks has nothing to do with tolling cars — this is a completely separate issue. There is no tent. There is no slope. I want elected officials to answer this question: Is tolling trucks a good idea or a bad idea — period.”
The tolls would be used as the revenue stream to access low-interest loans through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Build America Bureau.
“Time is of the essence. It would be fiscal mismanagement to miss this opportunity to secure federal funds at these incredibly low rates. Rates change every day,” Aresimowicz said.
Under the proposal, truck-only tolling rates would be similar to rates in New York. The Connecticut Department of Transportation has estimated that truck-only tolls could raise approximately $150 million annually.
Aresimowicz and Ritter said the Senate Republican plan, which includes no tolls, is a non-starter for them because it would remove about $1.6 billion from the Rainy Day Fund.
“We have caucus-members who remember when the state raided the rainy day fund in 2007/08 to the tune of $1.4 billion,” Ritter said. “We have spent the last decade slowly rebuilding our reserves and our reputation on Wall Street.”
Fasano has maintained its not a raid on the Rainy Day Fund because the money, through budget constraints passed in 2017, would replenish the fund by 2024.
As for the truck-only proposal, “I appreciate that House Democrats want to be part of the conversation,” Fasano said. “However, Governor Lamont has already reviewed and abandoned this idea. I personally do not support tolls on trucks. I have always feared that tolls on trucks is the first step to eventually tolling cars, which is a tax increase people do not support.”
Last week, Senate Democrats told Lamont they were unable to support CT2023.
“We look forward to reviewing the House Democrats’ proposal in-depth,” Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said Tuesday. “Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are reviewing several different options, and we look forward to discussing all ideas with the governor and leaders from both parties. Also, since our caucus meeting with Governor Lamont last week, we have been awaiting his recommendations for additional alternatives.”
Joe Sculley, president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut, said his members already pay to use the roads.
“Connecticut has collected about $25 to $30 million annually from out-of-state trucks through the International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA), and the International Registration Program (IRP). Additionally, the trucking industry in Connecticut pays 32% of all road taxes owed by Connecticut motorists, even though the industry accounts for only 5% of vehicle miles traveled in the state.
“As the trucking industry already pays the diesel tax, the Petroleum Gross Receipts Tax, and vehicle registration fees, tolls would be a fourth tax for the privilege of using what we have already paid for,” Sculley has said.