HARTFORD, CT – Gov. Ned Lamont and legislative leaders met for two hours Tuesday at the governor’s residence and did not reach a bipartisan consensus on the state’s transportation needs going forward.
However, Lamont and legislative Democrats, who hold majorities in both chambers, agreed that “truck-only” tolls would be the path they will pursue as part of a $20-billion transportation initiative, slimmed down from $21 billion.
The modification to Lamont’s CT 2030 proposal would assume $180 million in revenue from truck-only tolls in 12 locations, and it would use another $100 million in general obligation bonds. It would also use money in the Rainy Day Fund to pay down pension debt if that account grows beyond 15% of the general fund.
The plan assumes leveraging federal funds at low interest rates based on the truck-only toll revenue. The new plan, which has not been spelled out on paper yet, also stretches out the repayment of the debt on those federal loans from 27 years to 35 years.
“We have a credible plan to fix it that doesn’t raid the Rainy Day Fund and I think that’s what we should start with,” Lamont said.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said a truck-only tolling proposal was what Lamont campaigned on and added that “it’s the only plan that’s voter approved.”
“Let’s be clear, the door for tolls on cars is closed,” Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said.
Lamont had campaigned on tolling only trucks in order to pay for the state’s transportation needs. However, on a Saturday in February, he announced in an editorial that a truck-only tolling plan would not raise enough money to meet the state’s needs. As such, he endorsed the idea of tolling all vehicular traffic to raise the necessary funds.
But in the intervening months, members of the General Assembly have not been forthcoming in support of tolling, forcing caucus leaders to negotiate with Lamont, culminating in Tuesday’s meeting.
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said they are only “going after 18-wheeled large, large trucks, and light trucks like every other state to invest in our middle class and our infrastructure. That is an honest plan. It will work and we are not going to burden future generations by sweeping the Rainy Day Fund by $1.5 billion.”
The last part was a reference to Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano’s plan, FASTR CT.
On Nov. 14, Fasano pitched a no-toll alternative that he believes will fund a 10-year, $18-billion plan. FASTR CT uses the money from paying down the equity on special transportation obligation bonds, $100 million in general obligation bonds, and the new-car sales tax as revenue streams to access low-interest loans from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Build America Bureau.
The plan anticipates 0.8% interest on loans from the federal government, even though, according to the Lamont administration, not all projects would qualify for that amount.
In a controversial move, the Senate Republicans also would use money from the Rainy Day Fund to pay off some of the state’s unfunded pension liability. This would then allow a portion of the state employee fringe benefit costs currently in the Special Transportation Fund to move to the General Fund.
The Republican legislative leaders, House Minority Leader Themis Klarides and Fasano, said they can’t support any transportation plan that includes tolls, even if it’s not on passenger cars.
“They want tolls, they want to borrow more, they want more tax revenue from Connecticut residents – on top of their new taxes on plastic bags and groceries. They do not want to work with Republicans to do what is truly best for our state and its residents. They want tolls. Period,” Fasano said.
Fasano also concluded, “Their plan also is not sustainable, it will result in a lawsuit, and it will lead to increased costs on all products shipped through our state. But if that’s what they want, they have the majority. Put it up for a vote. Democrats, go for it.”
Klarides said Republicans don’t believe that the trucks-only plan works. “We feel there are other ways to do it that are more responsible,” she added.
Democratic legislative leaders said when the plan is drafted, they will bring it to their respective caucuses.
“We will be meeting with our caucuses in the coming weeks and days,” House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said.
Democrats hold majorities in both the House and the Senate, but have been unable to muster enough support to debate tolls in either chamber. It was still unclear Tuesday whether that had changed.