HARTFORD, CT – After months of anti-toll protests and objections to various iterations of Gov. Ned Lamont’s transportation proposal, a group of “pro-toll” advocates showed up Wednesday at the state Capitol to lend the governor some support.
The group of about 20 people, mostly from Fairfield County, gathered outside the Legislative Office Building meeting room to greet Lamont before his post-Bond Commission press conference.
Michelle Abt of Stamford said Lamont’s truck-only tolling plan doesn’t go far enough. She said they would like to see tolls on all vehicles because it would increase the amount of revenue available to fix Connecticut’s transportation system.
“It would be solved if we had revenue,” Abt said.
Angela Liptack of Ridgefield said they’ve been studying the issue of tolls for the past year and have concluded that tolls on all vehicles is the “most comprehensive fiscally, responsible solution.”
However, the group also supports truck-only tolls because it will allow the state to create the necessary revenue stream to access the low-interest loans from the federal government.
Republican legislative leaders were dismissive of the group.
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano said the pro-toll group seems to be the minority.
“It’s a very, very small group,” Fasano said.
He said he’s not hearing from people saying “please tax me.”
The anti-toll protesters have been a constant presence at the state Capitol. At least one member of the group is at the state Capitol daily to greet the governor and lawmakers, who aren’t in session until next year.
Meanwhile, Republican legislative leaders were concerned about Lamont’s decision not to release any of the $60 million in funds for local road improvement projects, including snow removal.
In a Dec. 13 letter to the governor and Democratic legislative leaders, Republicans suggested a vote on authorizing the necessary funds.
“The thing we can agree on is that we have to keep our word on what we’ve promised towns and cities,” House Minority Leader Themis Klarides said.
Lamont said lawmakers know they can’t vote on local road funding without approving a 2020 bond package.
“I think I need a bond bill passed to release this money,” Lamont said. “We’re going to have a bond bill passed in January, the same time we do our transportation.”
Fasano said he’s aware they can’t give the towns their money until a bond package is approved, but that’s what’s being held up and it’s being held up because Lamont won’t vote on it until he gets a vote on his transportation bill.
“Let’s not stop transportation, stop towns for some political power play,” Fasano said.
Fasano and Klarides wrote in their letter to the governor and Democratic legislative leaders that “past struggles to come to an agreement on a final plan casts doubt on whether or not a plan will be voted on in January, and we should not continue to keep towns waiting because there is no agreement on a larger package.”
Republicans said they did not receive a response to the letter.
The state Bond Commission approved $131.67 million in general obligations bonds Wednesday.
That brings the total amount of general obligation bonding in Lamont’s first year in office to $1.25 billion.
Lamont started his tenure announcing that he was putting the state on a debt diet after former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy borrowed nearly $2 billion a year for the last few years of his term.
“We’ve been on a bond binge for a long time and now we’re going to go on a debt diet,” Lamont said last December when he announced his plan to cut bonding by $500 million a year.
On Wednesday, Lamont said he thinks Connecticut’s fiscal discipline has been recognized.
He mentioned reports by Bloomberg News and Moody’s Investor Services, which recognized the state’s dedication to building up its Rainy Day Fund.
Moody’s said earlier this week that Connecticut has suffered from weak job growth since the recession and continues to be hindered by “an inefficient transportation infrastructure.”
However, its analysts praised the state for building up a Rainy Day Fund to help weather the next downturn.
And a new report – the National Association of State Budget Officers’ Fiscal Survey of the States – noted that Connecticut’s budget growth was below the national average, while its Rainy Day Fund is almost twice the national average.