House Democrats Get Jump On Toll Debate
HARTFORD, CT — Democratic legislative leaders in the House weren’t going to wait for the start of the legislative session to debate electronic tolls. They want to hold a vote and pass it as soon as possible.
“Connecticut residents can’t afford to wait; we must invest in transportation now,” Rep. Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, said. “Every day we put off making these tough decisions, we risk tragedy on our decaying roads and bridges.”
Guerrera and Rep. Chris Perone plan on introducing legislation to require the state Department of Transportation to prepare a statewide plan to implement electronic tolling on Connecticut’s highways.
Guerrera, who co-chairs the Transportation Committee, said they can get tolls up and running in the state over the next two or three years if they approve electronic tolls for Connecticut’s highways, like Interstates 95, 84, and 91.
But Guerrera and other Democratic lawmakers don’t want to wait.
“It’s not about Republican or Democrat,” Guerrera said.
He said the question is, “do you want a vibrant state that can move goods and services in a timely fashion?”
The Special Transportation Fund, which is used to borrow for road improvements, will be insolvent in two years.
Guerrera estimated tolls would bring in about $600 million to $800 million a year in new revenue to the state. An estimated 30 to 40 percent would come from out-of-state drivers, he added.
Over the course of 25 years, electronic tolls could raise $37-62 billion depending on the toll-rate used — according to the CDM Smith study commissioned by the state Department of Transportation and published in 2016.
Do they support a stop-gap measure like an increase in the gas tax?
Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, who chairs the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee, said he will propose a 4-cent increase in the gas tax. The gas tax is currently a flat 25 cents. He’s not proposing changing the gross receipts tax, which is the other tax on the per gallon cost of gas.
Guerrera said he would support an increase in the gas tax as long as it was temporary and written in a way that would reduce the gas tax when electronic tolling is installed.
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said they’ve been funding the Special Transportation Fund with a half-percent of the sales tax, which will increase in 2021 based on the bipartisan budget that was recently passed.
“However you do it, we have to have a real conversation about that,” Ritter said. “Because it’s not working and our state is failing because of it.”
Ritter said he’s not certain where the revenue for the Special Transportation Fund will come in the short term, but he believes there’s ways to raise the revenue to keep it solvent.
He said he hopes they get support from Republicans in the House, but there’s no guarantee.
“We hope common sense prevails and it’s bipartisan,” Ritter said.
Last year, after some debate on the issue, a bill that would have instituted electronic tolls was tabled.
Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Lyme, said during the debate that what he’s seen of proposals for tolls on Connecticut highways is asking too much of Connecticut residents.
He said all this bill will do is “lead to more funds coming out of hardworking people’s pockets.”
House and Senate Republicans have argued they can find the money for the Special Transportation Fund by prioritizing bonding without increasing the gas tax or installing tolls. Democratic lawmakers say it can’t be done.
“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,” House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said.
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, added that it’s “reckless to rush to approve tolls” before understanding the impact they would have.
“Everyone assumes tolls would be put on the borders; but let’s be clear, the state cannot put up border tolls,” Fasano said. “The DOT’s rough study shows that 75 percent of people paying tolls will be Connecticut residents. Even if approved by the federal government, feasibility questions remain.
Asked if they would let the bill get raised for a vote, Ritter said any decision to call a bill for a vote resides with Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin.
Ritter said he doesn’t want to prejudge the argument against tolls.
He said he wants to wait for Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s plan to solve the Special Transportation Fund deficiency.
The federal government, according to Guerrera, requires that funds from electronic tolls be used for transportation infrastructure. Guerrera argues that tolls could not be used for any other purpose even if the transportation lockbox on the ballot in 2018 is leaky.
“The bottom line is that we need some kind of revenue to come into this state that’s fair for everyone,” Guerrera said.
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Toll press conferencePosted by CTNewsJunkie.com on Monday, January 29, 2018