HARTFORD, CT — Toll opponents gathered inside the state Capitol Thursday seeking to remind Gov. Ned Lamont and lawmakers that they oppose truck-only tolls.
Patrick Sasser, co-founder of No Tolls CT, said they were at the Capitol to remind Lamont that they are opposed to tolls, even if they’re only on trucks.
“We want to make sure that he’s aware we aren’t going away on this issue,” Sasser said.
Lamont was arriving back to Connecticut Thursday and was not expected at his state Capitol office.
Sasser’s group has 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 February.
Sasser said truck-only tolls is just the beginning. He said no one trusts Connecticut government to keep a tolling system limited to trucks.
“With a push of a button they can then begin tolling all the cars on the road,” Sasser added.
Lamont, who campaigned on truck-only tolls, quickly abandoned that proposal last year for a tolling plan that included all vehicles. Unable to get that plan through the Democrat-controlled legislature, Lamont and Democratic lawmakers settled on a truck-only toll proposal similar to what’s been implemented in Rhode Island.
Democratic lawmakers and Lamont agreed to put forward a truck-only toll plan with some sort of bond covenant that would prevent tolling of passenger vehicles.
Legislative drafts to implement a truck-only tolling proposal are currently being circulated among legislative leaders. The plan is for the legislature to hold a special session later this month to finalize one.
The plan assumes $180 million in revenue from truck-only tolls in 12 locations, and it would require the use of 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 Democratic plan assumes leveraging federal funds at low interest rates based on the truck-only toll revenue. The plan also stretches out the repayment of the debt on those federal loans from 27 years to 35 years.
Not everyone in Connecticut is against tolls.
Angela Liptack of Ridgefield was at the Capitol earlier this month as part of the group supporting tolls. Thursday, she said she supports CT2030, which is what Lamont has dubbed his transportation plan, because Connecticut needs an “aggressive, forward looking vision for infrastructure.”
She said Connecticut is ranked poorly in national scorecards for fiscal stability and infrastructure and this plan to fund transportation improvements “does the right thing for both of those issues.”
When she talks to commuters, she says they tell her they want easier, safer and faster commutes. She said the proposal to fund improvements is a good way to secure funding without putting Connecticut further in debt.
Max Reiss, Lamont’s communications director, said the governor and Democratic lawmakers are the only ones with “ideas on the table to get Connecticut’s economy moving again.”
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, has put forward a plan that doesn’t include tolls, but uses the Rainy Day Fund to help pay down some pension debt. 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 10-year, $18-billion Senate Republican plan, dubbed 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 the low-interest loans from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Build America Bureau.
That equation doesn’t work for the Lamont administration, which has worked to rebuild reserves in the Rainy Day Fund.
“A lack of transportation investment has been holding our state back for generations, a criticism of our business community, and that’s going to stop once the state makes the responsible decision to charge the heavy tractor trailers that do the most damage to our roads, to fix our roads,” Reiss said. “Further, the right investments will make the state a better steward of our environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality. What the governor and General Assembly leaders have ruled out is an irresponsible raid on the state’s reserves, which are critical in the event of a recession.”