By SUSAN HAIGH
HARTFORD, Conn. — Some Connecticut state lawmakers aren’t giving up on passing legislation before the General Assembly adjourns in less than two weeks that could eventually lead to highway tolls on Connecticut’s highways.
Democratic House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said he hopes the House of Representatives will vote this week on a bill that would require the Department of Transportation to come up with a plan for tolling, including discounts for in-state drivers and commuters and possible long-term reductions in the state gas tax.
The Berlin, Connecticut, lawmaker said he’s “no longer afraid” of the political ramifications of supporting tolls, given the state’s deteriorating transportation infrastructure and a spending account for transportation projects that’s facing insolvency beginning fiscal year 2019.
“If it happens here, at least I can personally walk out of here with a clean conscience saying I have done everything to put the issue right out in center, in front of everybody, and we couldn’t get the votes,” he said.
Even if the bill clears the House, where Democrats hold a slim majority, its fate is doubtful in the Senate, where there are an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. The legislature is scheduled to adjourn its regular legislative session May 9 and then begin campaigning for re-election in November.
Republican Sen. Toni Boucher, a co-chairwoman of the Transportation Committee, said GOP senators recently discussed the prospect of tolls in a closed-door meeting.
“By the end of it, every single person that I spoke with there just didn’t have any appetite for a toll bill this year,” she said. “Even the Democrats on their side are having a difficult time trying to bring any toll bill out.”
Boucher argues that Connecticut taxpayers have been taxed too much since the state ended tolling in the late 1980s.
She said there “might be room to negotiate” if there was an immediate reduction in the state gasoline tax, among the highest in the nation.
“We see this tolling scheme as another additional tax on a state that has been devastated by too many additional taxes,” Boucher said. “We need to show where they’re going to take another tax off the table so we’re not adding more to the tax burden.”
Electronic tolling is one of the proposals being pushed by the group Move CT Forward, a coalition that includes the construction industry and trade unions.
Move CT Forward has been running a series of TV, radio and online ads warning about the condition of Connecticut’s roads and bridges and the lack of funding in the Special Transportation Fund. The group is also calling a $3 fee for each new tire purchased, a seven-cent increase in the gasoline tax over four years, higher motor vehicle license and other fees, and a new transportation authority to oversee transportation-related revenues. Those are the same actions Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has proposed. Under his plan, tolling would begin in Connecticut in fiscal year 2023.
The governor has warned that $4.3 billion in transportation projects will have to be delayed or canceled if there isn’t new revenue generated for the transportation fund.