HARTFORD, CT – Toll opponents gathered Friday at the Legislative Office Building in a celebratory mood following the cancelation of a special session on truck-only tolls.
The special session on Feb. 3 and 4 was canceled, but Democratic legislative leaders met mid-afternoon with Gov. Ned Lamont to reschedule a vote on the issue.
“I feel as confident today as a felt yesterday,” Lamont said. “… We’ve got a vote scheduled for the week of the 10th and we’re going to get that done.”
Aside from the toll opponents, there were quite a few toll supporters in the building on Friday as well.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, confirmed they plan to hold a vote the week of Feb. 10. However, they still haven’t decided whether the House or the Senate would start debate on the bill.
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said the public hearing is neither insignificant nor irrelevant.
“They really do want to hear what people say,” Ritter said of his members.
He maintained that his caucus has enough votes to pass it, and it’s simply a scheduling issue.
Looney said they have the 18 votes in his caucus for the legislation, but when they discussed it in private his members were under the assumption that the House would pass it first since the proposal was initially advanced by the House.
“We caucused on the basis that the House would go first,” Looney said.
And there are members of both caucuses “who want their vote to be final action,” Looney added.
Ritter said the “trust-building measures” they are taking to give their members confidence to vote for this bill are confidential.
Before the days-long public hearing, opponents joined Republican Senate Leader Len Fasano and House Minority Leader Themis Klarides for a press conference where they expressed their belief that Democratic lawmakers don’t have the votes to pass it.
“This is a bill about tolling trucks at 12 locations. It’s not much more,” Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, said in opening up the public hearing.
Earlier this week, Fasano pointed out that the draft language of the proposal would allow tolls to apply to all vehicles by a simple majority vote of the General Assembly.
Looney has said there’s no desire among lawmakers to expand tolling to all passenger vehicles.
“There’s broad-based opposition to passenger tolls,” Looney said.
He said there are contingencies written into the legislation “but that’s nothing I foresee happening. The level of opposition to passenger tolls is so strong that I see that as being a very remote, almost impossible situation to arise since there is such significant opposition to passenger tolls in all four caucuses.”
Fasano said the Democrats have a majority in both chambers so if they wanted to vote on legislation then they should call a vote, but instead they are arguing over whether the House or the Senate should go first.
“If they believe this is the right thing to do they are entitled to pass and we can’t do anything about it,” Fasano said.
Fasano has put forward a no-toll alternative, which has been panned by Democrats because it uses part of the Rainy Day Fund.
Democrats are “going to reject any proposal that doesn’t have tolls, and we’re going to reject any proposal that is tolls,” Fasano said.
It’s unclear how they get past the partisan divide and make both Republicans and Gov. Ned Lamont a winner in an election year.
Republicans Were Going To Filibuster
Klarides said she wasn’t going to restrain any of her members who wanted to talk about the bill.
“They want what’s best for this state and that’s going to take a long time to talk about,” Klarides said.
She said there was no threat of a lengthy discussion. She thinks Democratic legislative leaders probably figured that out on their own.
“I would have to physically restrain people if I told them they were not allowed to speak,” she added. “I would never do that.”
That being said Democrats aren’t afraid of a long debate when they have the votes. Klarides pointed to 14-hour and 12-hour debates to pass Paid Family and Medical Leave and an increase in the minimum wage.
“You know what the common denominator was with all those things are? They had the votes,” Klarides said.
Fasano said Democrats are going to blame everyone “for their inability to muster up the votes for a bad bill. Their people don’t want to vote for a bad bill. Period.”
Ritter said he’s confident they will have the votes.