The state has received $23.9 million in revenues from the Highway User Fee through the first five months, a pace that is well short of expectations.
Trucking companies have until the end of the month to make their June payment, the last for Fiscal Year 2023. But unless those payments double total revenues from the first five months combined, the state is likely to fall short of the projected $45 million.
Truckers hope the lack of revenue generated will help convince lawmakers to repeal the fee.
“It’s just a bad policy,” said John Blair, president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut. “It hasn’t worked in 21 other states and it’s already showing in the state of Connecticut that it’s not raising the amount of money they expected.”
Blair said he plans to push for a repeal every year so long as the fee remains in place. So far, Democratic leaders don’t seem inclined to budge.
“I don’t think it would be wise to revisit this issue,” Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk said.
The shortfall in fee revenues won’t cause problems for the overall Special Transportation fund for the prior fiscal year. Comptroller Sean Scanlon reported on July 1 that the STF was still on pace for a $260 million surplus for the year.
The current fiscal year is the first full year the state is collecting fees, and the Office of Fiscal Analysis projected $90 million in revenues.
Payments have steadily ranged between $4.3 and $5.3 million per month, though, meaning the stay will continue to miss that mark unless revenues pick up.
Blair said the state could achieve similar revenue figures by raising fuel taxes or the fees for motor vehicle registrations.
The Highway User Fee, on the other hand, requires companies to track their drivers’ mileage and calculate tax payments based on the weight of those trucks.
For companies with fleets of 25 to 50 trucks, Blair estimated that work could amount to $150,000 to $200,000 in additional administrative costs on top of tax payments.
“(It) doesn’t make sense when you can simply flip a switch and say, ‘hey, you’ve got to do another 10 dollars on your registration,’” he said.
Republicans supported the repeal effort this past session, and Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, said he’d do the same next year.
He said the fee was not necessary when the legislature adopted it because the state budget, like the STF, has a surplus.
“You have a budget that’s in surplus, you don’t need more taxes,” he said. “But the Democrats do.”
Scanlon projects the budget that just ended June 30 will have a surplus of $746 million once the bookkeeping is done. OFA, meanwhile, projects the current year’s budget to have a surplus of $615 million.
Kelly also said trucking companies are going to pass down costs from fees and associated administrative tasks down to consumers.
“We’re paying more for groceries, we’re paying more for the delivery of goods and services in the state of Connecticut,” he said. “That hurts middle- and working-class families and their kitchen-table economics.”
Duff, though, said the user fee is about adapting the state’s transportation-related revenues. Fuel tax revenues have increased as gas and diesel prices have climbed, but Duff said those will drop in the long run as cars become more efficient and more drivers, and trucking companies, switch to electric vehicles.
“This fee helps pay for, again, maintenance on our roads at a time when revenue from fuel taxes … have traditionally gone down,” he said.
He also said Highway User Fees are less than truckers pay in tolls in other states, but still shifts the costs burdens of road maintenance to the heaviest vehicles.
“Trucks do a valuable job for us because they bring goods into our communities, but … trucks on the highway mean more maintenance,” he said.