A war of words has broken out between Gov. Ned Lamont and leading Republican state senators in the wake of yesterday’s party-line passage by the Connecticut General Assembly’s Transportation Committee of three bills advancing legislation to establish highway tolls.
All three bills now move to the full General Assembly, where they will require approval by both the Senate and House of Representatives before they can become law. One of the bills, if passed, would require the state Department of Transportation to establish a plan to place electronic tolls along Interstates 95, 84 and 91 as well as Route 15 – a plan that would still need federal approval.
Even if ultimately passed, tolls would probably not become a reality in the state until 2023 at the earliest.
Last year, the DOT released a study saying that the installation of 82 tolling gantries across the state could net $1 billion per year in revenue, with 44 percent of that total generated by in-state drivers.
Following the three bills’ passage, Lamont said that when it comes to tolls, Connecticut needs “to have the same dialogue that 34 states in the country, including all of the other states along the Eastern Seaboard, have had. A reliable, sustainable revenue source – 40 percent of which will be paid for by people who don’t even live here – is necessary to make the infrastructure investment we need to get our state growing again.
“My plan includes discounts for Connecticut EZ-Pass holders and frequent commuters and assistance for low-income individuals and families as well,” he added. “Simply put, a 21st century economy cannot be supported by a 20th century transportation system.”
In response, state Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano and Sen. Henri Martin, ranking member of the Transportation Committee, released a statement maintaining that the bills “allow lawmakers to completely abandon their responsibility to taxpayers and shift the blame to someone else. Those who voted in favor of these bills today do not have the courage to own up to the fact that their actions will be responsible for tolls across the state and massive new taxes on every resident.
“This is a total abrogation of responsibility that puts the fate of taxpayers in the hands of a select few,” the statement continued. “In typical fashion, Democrat lawmakers are punting. Instead of developing legislation to give lawmakers a direct hand in deciding where tolls will be and what they will cost, ensuring taxpayers have someone in the room looking out for them, they would rather give someone else carte blanche and never look back on how their decisions will hurt their constituents.
“Tolls are a tax – and a regressive one at that,” the senators added. “Approving tolls seals the fate of our transportation system by allowing the governor to bankrupt our Special Transportation Fund and put all new infrastructure projects on hold for at least the next five years. When toll revenue eventually starts to come in, it will have an immediate negative impact on the middle class and individuals with low and fixed incomes.”
The senators urged the public “to speak out and urge their lawmakers to vote against this tax when it comes before the full General Assembly. Please make your voices heard.”
Lamont’s senior advisor Colleen Flanagan Johnson responded in kind.
“As Governor Lamont has said previously, he welcomes everyone to this important discussion. If Senators Fasano and Martin would like to be more involved in shaping this legislation, we welcome their input.
“In addition,” she added, “and for the umpteenth time, Senators Fasano and Martin know that the governor’s proposal doesn’t bankrupt the Special Transportation Fund, which in fact will run a deficit as soon as fiscal year 2023-2024 if it the current plan continues. Lastly, there is a plan in place – one that doesn’t beg, borrow, or steal – to continue prioritized transportation projects until the time at which tolls may come online.”