On Wednesday, newly elected Gov. Ned Lamont SOM ’80 introduced a number of proposals to generate revenue in his first budget draft for the state, including the enactment of tolls on the state’s main highways.
Lamont’s vision for the state includes tolls to raise revenue in order to improve the state’s deteriorating transportation infrastructure. On the campaign trail, the governor initially promised that any tolling would only affect commercial vehicles. But in response to a pending legal challenge to this idea and the high costs of transportation repairs, Lamont’s proposed draft, unveiled on Wednesday, outlined two potential options for the legislature to consider: one that taxes all vehicles and one that affects just commercial ones, such as trucks.
“The enactment of tolls, which secure our infrastructure for the future, will actually be to Connecticut’s benefit,” state Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, told the News. “[Tolls] will make sure that we have the quality of roads we need in order for economic development to occur.”
Since assuming the state’s highest elected office, Lamont has stressed a commitment to managing the Nutmeg State’s troubled finances. On Feb. 20, the governor published an op-ed in the CT Post in which he discussed his vision for tolling in the state. He outlined the two options which now appear in his proposed budget. In the op-ed and in a video posted to his Twitter, Lamont requested feedback on the two options.
In his op-ed, Lamont also expressed his opposition to increasing the gasoline tax — an often considered way to raise transportation-related revenue — citing its unreliability and the overall decline of gasoline use with the advent of energy-efficient and electric cars.
The new budget proposal follows several meetings Lamont held to discuss the topic of tolling. Advisers and budget analysts found a substantial disparity in the potential revenue from tolling only trucks compared to the revenue from tolling all vehicles. According to the budget proposal, the truck-only model would have a full revenue potential of approximately $200 million. The other plan is expected to generate an estimated $800 million annually.
At the city level, Mayor Toni Harp acknowledged the significance of building up transportation infrastructure statewide. Mayoral spokesman Laurence Grotheer told the News that Harp “recognizes the need to raise revenue to underwrite the costs.” Connecticut, Grotheer added, is one of few states on the I-95 highway that does not already collect tolls.
Lamont’s proposal of a broader tolling option comes as the state grapples with the legality of tolling a limited class of vehicles. A similar plan to the one Lamont proposed during his campaign is currently under legal challenge in nearby Rhode Island after several trucking companies joined together to challenge its legality.
Still, Looney told the News that a blanket toll could bring benefits to residents. The bill enacting tolling, he said, would have to be accompanied by a reduction in the per-gallon tax that residents pay at the pump. He added that gas-tax revenue is currently footed almost entirely by Connecticut residents, since out-of-state drivers do not frequently stop to buy gas in the state. Tolls, meanwhile, would shift a greater financial responsibility onto out-of-state users of the state’s roads. Lamont’s plan proposes a discount of at least 30 percent to in-state vehicles through an EZ-Pass system.
Looney also spoke about the long-term benefits of tolling, such as improvements in road and bridge infrastructure, and a reduction in road congestion. These improvements would, in turn, attract more businesses to expand or locate themselves in Connecticut, he said.
Some individuals have expressed frustration with what they see as a reversal on a campaign promise. Looney maintained that the trucks-only plan was merely a “proposal” that Lamont put out during that campaign — one that did not preclude the consideration of “alternatives.”
Other state residents, who are reluctant to spend more on in-state tolls, have been angered by Lamont’s willingness to consider tolling cars. Several legislators, including Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, took to local news outlets to condemn Lamont’s proposal. Fasano described it as a “bait and switch,” in an interview with WTNH.
Despite the potential benefits and political considerations, questions about the implementation and logistics of the tolls still remain.
“By the time we enact tolls — until they’re actually collecting revenue on the roads — would be at least three years. … So, how we’re going to deal with our infrastructure needs in the meantime is also a challenge,” Looney told the News. “Other questions would have to be resolved regarding tolling entries — where there would be spaces and how many there would be, would all be subject to later study.”
Lamont was elected governor in November 2018.
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