Dems budget plan paves way for marijuana legalization, third casino, highway tolls

Cars pass under toll sensor gantries hanging over the Massachusetts Turnpike, Monday, Aug. 22, 2016, in Newton, Mass. The state Department of Transportation is discussing plans for demolishing the tollbooths as it gets ready to implement an all-electronic tolling system on Interstate 90 which runs the length of the state. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Democrats in the General Assembly are proposing a state budget crisis solution that includes legalizing marijuana, endorses a third casino, and paves the way for electronic highway tolls.

It’s being touted as a way to get out-of-state residents to help Connecticut dig itself out of the red ink problem.  Trolling for dollars to solve one part of the budget crisis may result in tolling to solve another; how to pay for the highway and bridge rebuild that everyone agrees is needed.

Related Content: Democrats: Tolls in Connecticut ‘a fairness issue’

Another study, this time one conducted by a group funded in part by the insurance and construction industries, concludes that traffic congestion in the New Haven, Hartford, and Stamford areas, cost drivers more than $2,000 dollars a year in lost time, fuel and extra vehicle costs. Advocates for adding highway tolls as part of the state budget solution seized upon the results and pushed their plans as a way to get out of state residents to help pay our infrastructure bills.

Related Content: Connecticut finishes second-to-last in U.S. in safe driving report

“Thirty to forty percent that use our infrastructure in the State of Connecticut are out-of-staters, and they don’t pay a dime; and I think people have to realize that,” said Rep. Tony Guererra (D-Rocky Hill) the co-chair of the legislature’s Transportation Committee and a longtime advocate for tolls.

Related Content: New study shows New Haven drivers are losing about $2,200 dollars a year

The Speaker of the House, Rep. Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin) said again today that tolls are inevitable and that the majority of his caucus will vote to move tolls forward,  “The first step in the process will be, and we can earmark monies in the budget to moving forward, but would be to authorize the Commissioner of the Department of Transportation to come up with a plan.”

Related Content: Tolling bill facing multiple roadblocks

The Governor’s new budget plan, includes a provision pushed by Republicans, to divert Sales Tax revenue from new car sales into the Special Transportation Fund, also known as the S-T-F, to keep the fund from going broke because Gas Tax revenue is falling.  “We incorporate the Republican’s proposal to transfer Sales Tax on new vehicles to the STF starting in fiscal year ’19 thereby extending the solvency of the fund until 2022,” said Gov. Malloy.  Considered a stop gap measure by some, it could keep the fund going until toll revenue started rolling in.

Related Content: House Speaker says some tolls could be ready in 18 months

The Republican leader in the House, Rep. Themis Klarides,  says there may be members of her caucus that will join Democrats in voting to start the ball rolling on instituting tolls, “There are members of our caucus who may support it, there are members that don’t support it at all. But I think the more important question is; will we actually gain revenue from tolls and that’s a big question.”

Toll advocates say that’s why the bill will authorize the D.O.T. to establish a plan that will not violate any federal laws and will raise the most revenue to fund all the multi billion dollar projects they have in mind, like the mixmaster in Waterbury and the I-84 viaduct in Hartford.

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