Lamont, Democrats hint at sweetener for Connecticut tolls
There’s a chance that if electronic highway tolls are installed around Connecticut, the state’s gasoline tax would be reduced from the current 25 cents per gallon.
That was the potential sweetener offered Wednesday, when Gov. Ned Lamont joined local leaders and union leaders in pushing for tolls ahead of a daylong public hearing on the issue that brought out hundreds, from either side of the issue, to the state Capitol.
“I think that’s something we can look at,” Lamont said when asked by a reporter. “We’ll see how that balances out. I think that makes some sense.”
Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, predicted the possibility in a jammed meeting room in the Legislative Office Building. Noting that even if the issue were approved this year, it would be several more years to install the system of overhead gantries, he said the $800 million to $1 billion in annual revenue from the tolls would be crucial to repairing the state’s aging rail, highway and bridge system.
He recalled that back in 1983, the collapse of an Interstate 95 bridge over the Mianus River in Greenwich underscored the state’s pattern of deferred maintenance. The subsequent reaction helped improve the transit infrastructure, but now the roads are crowded and the trains to New York are slower than they were 100 years ago.
Looney said that the amount raised by the gasoline tax has been declining in recent years because of fuel efficiency and the popularity of electric and hybrid vehicles. But according to recent fiscal projections, the current fiscal year is expected to end June 30 with $505 million in revenue from the gas tax, about what it raised three years ago.
“The revenues from the gas tax project to be flat in years to come as our infrastructure needs go up and up and up,” Looney said. “I don’t think anyone wants to increase the gas tax to astronomic proportions that would have to be necessary.”
Looney said it would be “important” to reduce the gas tax at the same time that tolls take effect, to target relief for state residents.
“I’ve got to give people a sense of direction,” Lamont said. “I know it’s unpopular. I know people don’t want to pay a little bit more. They think there’s a magic wand, another way we can do this. At the end of the day, I feel very strongly we have to put in this recurring revenue stream that invests in transportation. It’s the best way to get jobs back in the state of Connecticut.”
He noted that states around the country are dealing with aging infrastructure in a variety of ways, including Michigan and Ohio, where massive hikes in the gasoline tax have been proposed. “That’s not the way we want to go in this state,” Lamont said. “Whether we can reduce it over time, I think that makes some sense.”
Early Wednesday, Lamont posted a video on his social media feeds stressing the need to rehabilitate the state’s transportation system. On Tuesday, Republicans in the General Assembly said they will continue to oppose tolls, stressing a way to prioritize spending without creating new road-use fees.
Since last month, Lamont has traveled around the state highlighting the need for major infrastructure projects, and the fact that tolls could bring in $800 million a year, 40 percent of which would be paid by out-of-staters.
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