Republicans stand united against Connecticut tolls

In a 2016 file photo, cars drove under electronic toll gantries on the Mass Pike. (AP Photo /Elise Amendola, File) /
In a 2016 file photo, cars drove under electronic toll gantries on the Mass Pike. (AP Photo /Elise Amendola, File) /

Minority Republicans staged an anti-toll news conference on Tuesday, promising that any bill to create electronic highway tolling would meet their staunch opposition.
House and Senate Republicans challenged Gov. Ned Lamont’s contention that 40 percent of toll revenue would come from out-of-staters. They noted that out-of-state drivers would also be eligible to purchase Connecticut transponders, under federal law that allows more than 14 percent of Massachusetts transponders to have been purchased by non-state residents.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, and Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said the goal of Lamont and Democrats is to generate a billion dollars in annual revenue. They promised to fight for commuters and working people, while developing strategies to support transportation infrastructure projects.

“These are people who fight for every dime they have,” Klarides said, promoting a previous GOP plan to prioritize transportation infrastructure spending. “I am here to say to the Connecticut taxpayer that we are all, and our team, is behind you. There are other ways to do it and we have those other ways.”
Rep. Laura Devlin, R-Fairfield, ranking member of the legislative Transportation Committee, said that as she travels around the state talking about the issue, residents are beginning to better understand — and oppose — what would essentially be a road-use tax.
“Don’t get distracted by the number of gantries,” she said. “Any plan we’ve seen includes a revenue target of one billion dollars. The majority of that is a tax on the residents of the state of Connecticut. That’s just the start. Have you ever heard of a toll that goes down in price?”
“The bottom line is, that this is a mileage tax,” Fasano said.
Currently, toll-related legislation is vaguely written, but includes a bill that would allow the issue to be approved in the General Assembly without votes in the House and Senate, if there is not a vote within 15 days of passage in committee.
Fasano said that if that bill were to pass that way, tolls could be decided by Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, and Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven.
In response, Looney said Republicans would add to the state’s debt, while tolls would create a new revenue stream.
“Once Connecticut pays off these bills in 20 years the interest will end up having the state pay 150% of the construction costs,” Looney said. “In addition, the Republican plan only pays for minor fixes and repairs and does not fund major projects the state needs like the I-84 viaduct in Hartford, the I-84 mixmaster in Waterbury, movable rail bridges, and other large necessary projects.”

The Transportation Committee’s deadline is March 25, while the Finance Committee, which would review toll revenue, has until May 2. The annual legislative session ends at 12:01 a.m. on June 6. Democrats hold a 90-60 majority, pending at least one remaining special election in the House; and a 22-14 edge in the Senate.
Lamont proposed 53 toll gantries along Interstates-95, 91, and 84, as well as the Merritt and Wilbur Cross.
Maribel La Luz, Lamont’s director of communications, agreed with Looney that the Republican plan is supported by a borrowing scheme that just pushes out the state’s fiscal problems further into the future.
“There’s agreement from everyone about two things: our transportation system needs enhancements and upgrades because it’s too congested and inhibits our growth, and Connecticut residents should be the least burdened,” La Luz said. “To address this, the Governor is proposing a user fee on our major highways where at least 40% would be paid by out-of-state commuters. Every other state around us has figured this out, so can Connecticut.” Twitter: @KenDixonCT