Gov. Ned Lamont at a press conference at Macdonough Elementary School in Middletown (Courtesy of DEEP Facebook broadcast)
Gov. Ned Lamont at a press conference at Macdonough Elementary School in Middletown promoting an electric bus. (Courtesy of DEEP Facebook broadcast)

A proponent of the Transportation and Climate Initiative said he expected sufficient support to approve the agreement if it were raised in the House next month, but as of Wednesday the program still faced skepticism in the Senate. 

If approved, the multi-state initiative would require fuel suppliers to buy permits for the pollution resulting from the fuel they sell. The plan aimed to reduce carbon emissions and was expected to lead to higher gas prices as fuel sellers passed extra costs to consumers. The state planned to use revenue raised by the permits to pay for transportation and environmental projects. 

Gov. Ned Lamont signed onto the multi-state plan late last year, but did not receive legislative approval to implement it. Republicans and fuel suppliers argued the program amounted to a gas tax and, during budget negotiations, legislative leaders told the governor they lacked the votes to pass it. 

During a Wednesday phone interview, Rep. Joe Gresko, a Stratford Democrat who co-chairs the Environment Committee, said he anticipated enough support among House Democrats to approve the legislation and believed it had a shot at seeing a vote in a special session next month when lawmakers may gather to decide how to spend remaining federal stimulus funds.

“When last I checked, gauging the field of my colleagues, we had the votes to pass it,” Gresko said. “I’m not saying every Democrat would have voted ‘Yes’ but I think another vote count would be positive as far as the number of votes necessary in the House.” 

Gresko said he expected no opposition from House leaders and was prepared to begin collecting an updated vote count. 

But the bill appears unlikely to see a vote in the upper chamber, where Senate President Martin Looney has expressed concerns that higher gas prices would hit the wallets of lower and middle income residents harder.

In a Wednesday statement, Looney repeated those concerns. 

“We are strongly supportive of the goals of TCI in helping reach our targets for renewable energy sources, but we have differences on how to fund initiatives to combat climate change. These programs should not be funded in a regressive manner in order to protect middle class families,” Looney said.

Meanwhile, Republicans continue to oppose TCI. On Monday, the Yankee Institute for Public Policy published an article quoting Gresko as attempting to rally support for the proposal with an eye towards a September vote. Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly issued a statement objecting to efforts to resurrect the bill. 

“The TCI gas tax is a significant burden on working and middle class families, with little improvement in greenhouse gas pollution, which is why early supporters like the Sierra Club have since withdrawn their support,” Kelly said. “It is a tax that even Democrats now admit will hurt poorer people with older vehicles who would pay a disproportionate amount of the cost.”

Asked about renewed efforts to approve the initiative, the governor said Wednesday he hopes lawmakers will make it happen.

“I know there are a number of legislators … thinking about bringing it up again sooner rather than later,” Lamont said. “I think folks are coming back in September, is my understanding, so there’s a chance it comes back then. That’s really up to the leadership. Everybody knows where I stand on the issue. I’d like to think they can count the votes and get it done.”

In the meantime, the initiative is in limbo. Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Washington D.C. were the first jurisdictions to formally commit to the multi-state deal. However, both Connecticut and Rhode Island require legislative approval to move forward and neither state has secured it. The Rhode Island state Senate approved a bill in June, but its House has yet to take any action on the matter. 

It’s also unclear if the legislature will return to allocate the remaining federal funds. 

Last week, House Speaker Matt Ritter said the size of the surplus means there’s no urgency to return and distribute the federal funding.