Malloy punts on how to pay for his transportation plan

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Governor Malloy says he’s ready to ramp-up his rebuild of the state’s entire transportation system, but will let others figure out how to pay for it.

His new budget proposal has no new taxes and does not contain a plan for highway tolls, but that doesn’t mean they’re not on the horizon. The proposal does contain his plan to cut the state sales tax by four-tenths of a percent over the next two years, bringing it down to 5.95-percent saying.  

“We can pay for it by simplifying our tax code, removing some exemptions, and by reigning in loopholes and corporate tax credits,” said the Governor.

But Republicans correctly note that actually results in an increase in the overall sales tax burden because it removes a $50 exemption for clothing that would have affected everyone, and imposes heavier taxes on business.

“Most people will look at that and say, my family said it, ‘that’s great they’re going to cut our sales tax,’ but they don’t realize that these exemptions are being taken away,” said House Minority Leader Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby. “At the end of the day, you’re going to end up paying more, and that hurts the middle class,” .

Malloy is proposing over half a billion dollars in spending cuts each year, mostly to human service programs. The plan includes no layoffs, but hundreds of job vacancies will not be filled. There’s fewer people in jail, so he says they can close at least one prison.

On the big transportation plan, the Governor is only funding the engineering and design concepts, punting on how to pay for it. 

“I will form a non-partisan commission comprised of experts in transportation, finance, and economic development from throughout Connecticut,” said Gov. Malloy.

The plan includes a long list of of highways, bridges, and interchanges in every part of the state, plus rail and bus lines.  

“They will have a single, narrow goal: offering recommendations for a sustainable structure to fund transportation over the next 30 years and beyond,” said Malloy.

The Majority Democratic Leadership of the General Assembly is already convinced that bringing back highway tolls will have to be in the mix.  

“Tolls are going to be a critical part,” said Speaker of the House Rep. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden. “One of a piece of a larger matrix of revenue sources that we’re going to have to generate.”     
“I think that we need an additional revenue stream that’s going to have to involve tolls in some way,” said Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, D-New Haven.

One high ranking member of the Malloy Adminstration says that continuing to rely on the taxes on gasoline to fund transportation is a dead end. Those taxes continue to generate less and less as cars and trucks continue to get better and better mileage.

But the Governor’s own budget director says that tolls alone might not be enough to do what he wants because you can only charge so much at the toll booth.  

“Depending on how much you charge, it’s like anything else, if you charge a high enough price then people will be more likely to jump off the highway and ride on local roads,” said Ben Barnes, Commissioner of the Office of Policy and Management.

The Republicans are staunchly opposed to any tolls and say their plan, announced last week, can do what the Governor wants without them. 

“I applaud him for doing a transportation initiative, but I think our plan is the way you can do it without raising taxes and without raising tolls,” said State Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven.

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