Toni Boucher seeks residents’ opinions on border tolls

State Senator Toni Boucher (R-26), ranking member of the Transportation Committee, is launching an online campaign to see what the commuting public thinks of border tolls.

“There are a lot of strong feelings about these tolls and I’ve gotten feedback, but I wanted something a little more formal,”  Ms. Boucher told The Bulletin.

“That is why I have a survey to find out how people feel and a petition that people can sign so that we can get an idea about it — at least in my district.”

Ms. Boucher said since Gov. Dannel Malloy is “determined to make transportation a top priority this session,” it is more important that the people of Connecticut “contact their elected officials and make sure that their opinion on this issue is heard.”

“I am asking residents and commuters to weigh in on the issue to get their ideas and move forward in a thoughtful and constructive way,” said Ms. Boucher.

“An online survey and petition are outreach ideas that take minimal time from busy constituents, but are valuable when making these big policy changes.”

Toll opposition

Based on feedback from her constituents, Ms. Boucher said, she has found that people are generally “very, very, very anti-toll.”

“Toll, to many people, is a four-letter word — they don’t like it,” she said. “Somebody even jokingly said, ‘It’s highway robbery.’ This is some of the feedback I’ve received. It’s the way people feel.”

Ms. Boucher said people have expressed several reasons for their opposition to border tolls, including distrust that “any new monies that come in will be used for transportation, because they regularly take money out of the special transportation fund and use it to plug up holes in the budget.

“It’s an extremely unpopular policy and the public does not support it and has vehemently made their case to us,” said Ms. Boucher.

“They just feel that the state should be re-prioritizing their spending ... and if there is money that can be found, it should be utilized more instead of being wasted in other places.”

With Connecticut’s high gas taxes, Ms. Boucher said, residents already feel they are paying too much and that the installation of border tolls would put even more of a burden on state taxpayers and commuters — especially those who drive over state lines for work.

“We’re a small state and many people work on the other side of the border,” said Ms. Boucher.

“Border tolls would unfairly target some people who have a job across the border because they would have to pay more to get to work compared to those who don’t have to cross the line.”

Ms. Boucher said there is wariness about whether border tolls would “produce the revenues people think it would.”

Ms. Boucher said the introduction of tolls would increase the use of side roads, causing congestion in local neighborhoods, which could result in less-than-expected toll revenues.

“There’s a massive amount of cost to put tolls in and the expectation isn’t, often times, what actually happens, so the question is: Will you really get that money?”

Next steps

Ms. Boucher said the Transportation Committee will have a public hearing on tolls in the next few weeks.

“If it moves out of the Transportation Committee in March, then it will go before the House and Senate, if it actually has enough votes to pass,” she said.

“Even if it doesn’t make it out of committee, because it has a public hearing, it means it’s alive and well and could be found in the governor’s budget bills — it has ways of finding its way to a vote at the end of the session.”

Because she wants people to weigh in on the issue, Ms. Boucher said, the survey and petition will be available for residents for “as long as this issue continues to move forward.”

Prioritize Progress

Ms. Boucher’s online survey and petition launched on the heels of a Republican-led transportation plan, known as “Prioritize Progress.”

Designed to “fund the future of Connecticut’s transportation networks for the next 30 years,” the plan uses “existing financial means and does not tax or toll commuters and does not increase the state debt,” according to the press release.

According to a Feb. 10 GOP press release, Republicans believe this “sound financial plan,” which creates a soft bonding cap of $1.75 billion the first year and gradually reduces the cap to $1.6 billion, goes a long way to responsibly pay for a clear transportation strategy without further burdening Connecticut’s taxpayers.

The GOP said the plan reduces the bond cap from the Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA)’s projected bond allocations for the first two years, which the OFA estimates will save Connecticut an estimated $305 million in debt service over the life of the bonds.

“The initiative will enable the state to appropriately pay for transportation needs without adding to the state budget, without over-burdening families with additional taxes, without implementing tolls, and without relying on the presence of federal funding,” said Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano (R-34).

In addition to protecting current sources of transportation funding, the GOP has recommended that the state make a “clear and defined commitment to transportation projects by reserving a set amount of general obligation bonds to be used solely for transportation priorities, beginning with a commitment of $441.5 million in fiscal year 2016.”

To take the transportation survey or sign the petition, visit: senatorboucher.com.