House Democrats begin push for electronic tolls

On Monday morning, a dozen Democrats from the House of Representatives promised to put forth a bill that would pave the way for electronic tolls on Connecticut highways. The Department of Transportation would create tolls, and the revenue generated would fund transportation projects. Tony Guerrera, D-29, is the House chairman of the Transportation Committee, and has been pushing for tolls for some time.

“I promise you, if we do this, Connecticut will thrive,” Guerrera said in a press conference.

Without tolls, it would be possible to see fare hikes in public transportation to cover the projects. In early January, the state released a roster of 400 capital projects worth just over $4 billion that have been postponed over lack of funding.

Chris Perone, the chief transportation financial officer, said in a statement, “We are looking at a scenario where we will run out of money for our transportation infrastructure. Electronic tolls are the answer.”

Commuter advocate Jim Cameron said he views those who are opposed to the tolls but who claim to be in favor of commuters as hypocrites.

“Like so many of his fellow Democrats, Senator (Bob) Duff (D-25) has been hypocritical in saying he supports commuters but doesn’t support tolls,” said Cameron. “While allowing his party to steal from the Special Transportation Fund to balance the state’s budget and while endorsing the sweetheart deal of state unions to line their pockets at our expense, the majority party has all but guaranteed the fiscal crisis we now face.

“Connecticut is the only state in the Northeast that doesn’t have tolls. It’s time we finally asked all motorists to pay their fair share for our transportation network, not just Metro-North commuters who are facing another 20% fare hike.”

Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti said he also supports the proposal as long as the money generated by the tolls is actually funding the transportation projects as it is intended to.

“That’s the tough part for some politicians, because it requires them to be disciplined,” said Lauretti.

There was some pushback against the idea. Many shared Lauretti’s concern that the revenue generated by tolls could be taken and used to address deficits in the state operating budget, as opposed to actually funding transportation projects.

Sen. Kevin Kelly (R-21) said he is completely against imposing another tax on Connecticut families but wasn’t surprised by the Democrats’ promise.

“For years Republicans in both the House and the Senate have proposed alternative plans to help fix our aging infrastructure and transportation woes. All of these proposals have fallen on deaf ears as the Democrat majority has driven our state into a fiscal crisis and transportation disaster,” said Kelly. “Connecticut taxpayers have sacrificed enough of their hard-earned dollars to the fiscally negligent hands of the Democrats, and I will not stand idly by while they demand more and more money from my Connecticut neighbors. At the end of the day, electronic tolling is just another way for government to get their hands into your paycheck — we must stand united and fix our fiscal woes without demanding more from taxpayers. Especially while there are still so many unanswered questions about the efficacy of tolls.”

“Tolls would be reasonable if we were to cut the gas tax,” said state Rep. Jason Perillo (R-113). “But that’s not the plan. The gas tax is what we have in place to pay for our roads and bridges, but because Hartford can’t ‘tighten its belt,’ now they need a new source of funding.

“What’s important to know is that money for the gas tax over the last seven years is consistently taken from the transportation fund to cover shortfalls in the budget.”

Perillo clarified that the money raised via the tolls would be monitored and controlled by the governor and legislature. He added that that there will be a ballot item in November that will propose a constitutional amendment to create a “lockbox” for transportation funding.