State officials are debating proposals to finance Gov. Dannel Malloy’s long-term transportation goals, introduced in his budget address last Wednesday.
In his address, Malloy introduced a three-decade-long transportation plan that would increase rail service, widen highways and upgrade several bridges throughout the state. The initiative would cost $10 billion in its first five years, and $100 billion over the next 30. However, Malloy did not present a specific plan on how he would fund these long-term projects.
At a public hearing Wednesday in front of the Transportation Committee, state officials proposed two ideas to fund Malloy’s plan: a transportation fund lockbox and highway tolls. The transportation fund lockbox would ensure that funds meant for transportation projects would not be used for other state projects. Tolls, which were banned in Connecticut in 1983, would also help bring in funding.
“There’s a fund in state government that is supposed to be used just for transportation projects,” said state Sen. Michael McLachlan, a Republican representing Danbury. “But they keep taking money out of it and putting it into general funding, and the first way to help pay for it is to stop spending that money.”
In his budget address last Wednesday, Malloy voiced his support for a transportation fund lockbox.
Although the idea for the lockbox was introduced by Democratic state representatives and senators, state officials on both sides of the aisle interviewed said it was well-received by both parties.
“The process is moving forward,” said state Rep. Antonio Guerrera, a Democrat representing Newington, Rocky Hill and Wethersfield. “We had a public hearing [yesterday] and it seemed to me like it gathered quite a bit of support from both sides.”
State officials are now working to garner more support to get the bill approved by the committee and then to have a vote on the floor of the House and the Senate, Guerrera said. He added that no timeline is available as of now, but that it would most likely take a least a few years for the bill to pass.
Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management Benjamin Barnes said in a testimony during the public hearing that Malloy recognized that the proposed amendment could be enacted, at earliest, following the 2016 elections.
The Transportation Committee also heard proposals on the re-institution of tolls to raise funds for transportation projects.
“That was much more controversial,” Guerrera said. “We’ll have to work on that and see how we’ll get it out of the committee.”
The introduction of state tolls met much opposition. McLachlan, who represents Danbury, a town near the border of western Connecticut and New York, is worried that border tolls will force his residents to face tolls to go to work both ways every day. He added that tolls would bring more harm than good, since the tolls would only bring in around 5 percent of what the government funding needs.
Marshall Collins, counsel for government relations for the Lumber Dealers’ Association of Connecticut, also testified against tolls. He said tolls would further increase the already high cost of doing business in Connecticut.
Barnes, however, said in a briefing Wednesday morning shortly before Malloy’s address that the state had no plans to introduce highway tolls, recognizing their economic downsides.