Electronic tolls to be proposed, Republicans say not needed

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — The big push to place electronic tolls on Connecticut highways is moving full speed ahead among top Democrats in the General Assembly. 

As News 8 first reported last week, a plan to hike the gas tax is already in the works, and now, there’s a move to give the Department of Transportation the green light to move ahead with tolls.

The longtime Democratic co-chair of the Transportation Committee, who is also a longtime advocate for tolls, says he is ready for the big push in the new General Assembly session that begins next week. Rep. Tony Guererra (D-Rocky Hill) stated, “Yes, this will be a tough vote. I get that. But that’s why all of us here were elected.”

Democrats on the Transportation Committee are drafting legislation requiring the DOT to prepare a plan to implement electronic tolls statewide.

Earlier in January, Governor Dannel Malloy announced he was placing an “indefinite hold” on all transportation construction projects because the state’s Special Transportation Fund would be heading into the red later this year and that would make it impossible to sell bonds in order to borrow money to pay for those projects.

Related Content: Lawmakers to discuss electronic tolls

Members of the construction trade unions said that this “indefinite hold” will cause an outward migration to other states of construction workers and that it might be hard to get them back. “Once we get into the spring time when you’re talking about the V.I.P. paving program, the town aid grant programs that are out there, yeah, we probably will see that,” said Nate Brown of IUOE Local 478, the Operating Engineers Union.

House Majority Leader Rep. Matt Ritter (D-Hartford) is fully endorsing tolls. He explained, “If you drive to New Hampshire, if you drive to Maine, if you drive to Massachusetts, if you drive to New York, if you drive to Maryland, if you drive to New Jersey, what do they have? They have tolls to pay for the infrastructure.”

One of the big selling points for those advocating for the tolls are statistics showing that in neighboring states, local residents make up only about 60 percent of those paying the tolls. More than 40 percent is paid by non-state residents. Advocates say that’s why Connecticut residents are coming around to supporting the idea.

Related Content: Capitol Report: Connecticut lawmakers propose gas tax hike

Added Guererra, “Polls are out there show that they’re okay with this as long as that money goes back to the infrastructure. They’re okay with that.”

Governor Malloy is expected to announce his recommendations for transportation funding later this week.

Sen. Len Fasano (R-North Haven), the Republican Senate President Pro tem issued a statement, saying:

It is irresponsible to approve a law, and subject people to more fees, without understanding the magnitude of the impact on Connecticut residents. They’ve been taxed enough. I understand some people are desperate to look at tolls as a cure-all for a state that has been damaged by years of failure under Gov. Malloy and a Democrat controlled legislature. But it’s reckless to rush to approve tolls before even understanding the economics of how they would work. Everyone assumes tolls would be put on the borders; but let’s be clear, the state cannot put up border tolls. The DOT’s rough study shows that 75% of people paying tolls will be Connecticut residents. Even if approved by the federal government, feasibility questions remain. Currently, Connecticut receives more federal funding because we do not have tolls; so what happens to that funding? If people avoid tolls, will Connecticut generate enough revenue to offset the costs? If Connecticut has to toll every major route in our state to stop people from dodging tolls, how will the state afford to pay for the installation of such broad infrastructure so quickly? And how much will residents have to pay at the tolls in order for the state to generate a profit? Studies thus far are based on Connecticut adopting toll prices that far exceed toll rates in other places by anywhere between 2 to 4 times the highest rate in the country.

Connecticut needs to consider ways to fund transportation without asking for more from state taxpayers who have already been drained enough. It’s obvious that the same people who are rushing to advocate for tolls have not read the Republican Prioritize Progress transportation funding plan which eliminates excessive use of the state’s credit card for political handouts at the same time it prioritizes funding for necessities like roads, bridges and school construction. Just because our proposal stops Democrats from taxing people more, they have already made up their minds that they don’t like it. Instead of blindly pushing for a drastic new money grab, I wish lawmakers were more focused on getting answers and considering solutions that would be less painful for Connecticut residents.”

The Republican Leader in the House, Rep. Themis Klarides (R-Derby) also issued a statement, which read:

Republicans have demonstrated with our Prioritize Progress initiative( Prioritize Progress) beginning in 2015 that we can dedicate sufficient funds for transportation projects, in this case $63 billion over three decades while stabilizing the STF, without installing tolls on Connecticut’s roads or raising gas taxes,’’ Klarides said. “This issue will certainly be debated in the coming legislative session, and public opinion will likely move around once the location and number of tolls are defined and we learn how much revenue they will generate.’’

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