HARTFORD, CT — Gov. Ned Lamont and legislative Democratic leaders plan to unveil the financial details of their truck-only tolling proposal this week, but Republicans lawmakers say a federal appeals court ruling should put the brakes on it.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit decided late Thursday to allow the American Trucking Association lawsuit against Rhode Island for its truck-only tolls to move forward.
The association challenged the constitutionality of Rhode Island’s tolls on its members under the U.S. Commerce Clause.
“Today’s decision by the First Circuit paves the way for us to make that argument in federal court, and we look forward to the chance to vindicate our case on the merits,” ATA president and CEO Chris Spear said.
The First Circuit held that the truck-only tolls in Rhode Island are not a “tax,” and are not immune from challenge in federal court.
Previously a federal court judge ruled that the trucking association lawsuit should be heard by a state court. The trucking association appealed that decision to the First Circuit. Thursday’s ruling sends the case back to U.S. District Court.
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, was quick to call on Lamont Friday to put the brakes on his plan.
“In light of yesterday’s federal appeals court decision advancing the lawsuit in Rhode Island over truck tolls, Gov. Lamont needs to call off his trucks-only tolling plan,” Fasano said. “Today it is clear that Republicans have the only viable transportation plan.”
The Senate Republican plan doesn’t include tolls, but it would take about $1.5 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to pay down pension debt. Lamont has maintained that’s an equally risky proposition.
“The court’s decision gives credence to the trucking industry’s challenge,” Fasano said. ”It ties up this issue in litigation for years to come, leaves doubt and uncertainty in the ability to toll only trucks, and creates significant economic risk for taxpayers.”
Lamont fired back that the Rhode Island ruling “was merely a procedural ruling regarding whether this case should be heard in a federal or state court – nothing more. It did not decide on, or even address, the merits of the case.”
Connecticut’s governor maintained that the “ruling says nothing about the strength of the underlying legal challenge to trucks-only tolls, which far from being a burden on interstate commerce are a commonsense way to benefit that commerce by asking the in and out-of-state commercial trucks that do the most damage to our roads to pay their fair share of maintenance and congestion mitigation projects. Earlier today, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo asserted her confidence that Rhode Island ‘will win our case in federal court’, and I agree.”
Fasano said “Tolling trucks sets us up for failure and leads us down a path to car tolls. A lawsuit creates serious financial risk for taxpayers and the governor’s plan could leave Connecticut with little choice but to expand tolls to cars to avoid legal jeopardy. Yesterday’s federal appeals court decision affirmed the fact that there is a viable claim that tolling only trucks violates the U.S. Constitution.”
“Senator Fasano either misunderstands or is greatly exaggerating the court’s decision for political gain,” Lamont said. “This federal Circuit Court decision, which is not binding in Connecticut, has simply held that truckers may bring their meritless claims in federal court as well as state court.”
Motor Transport Association of Connecticut President Joe Sculley said truck-only tolls would be a major blow to Connecticut’s economy because it would increase the cost of goods.
“The most recent Commodity Flow Survey (CFS) data shows that Connecticut would be shooting its own economy right in the foot if it passes trucks-only tolls on existing interstate bridges,” Sculley said. “The large majority of freight that is moved by truck in Connecticut
involves a truck taking freight (goods) from one place to another within the state.”
Recent CFS data shows that 197.1 million tons of freight were moved by truck in Connecticut annually. Of that, 62% (more than 122 million tons) of the total freight moved by truck simply goes from one place in Connecticut to another. The CFS data further shows that only 26%, or 51.4 million tons, are moved by truck into Connecticut from out-of-state trading partners.
“For all the talk about out-of-state trucks, this data shows that truck-only tolls will be merely another blow to our state’s economy,” Sculley said.