Malloy’s big ask: Find $100 billion for transportation

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy names Cameron Staples, at right, as chairman of his Transportation Finance  Panel.

CTMIRROR.ORG

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy names Cameron Staples, at right, as chairman of his Transportation Finance Panel.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy named a group led by a former legislative tax expert Tuesday to identify the means to pay for a 30-year, $100 billion effort to modernize and maintain Connecticut’s transportation infrastructure.

The Democratic governor gave the panel until late summer to make recommendations, meaning he is unlikely to place a transportation finance plan before the legislature until a special session this fall or the 2016 regular session.

“I’m looking to get it right, as opposed to get it by any particular date,” Malloy said.

Cameron Staples, a Democrat who represented New Haven in the state House of Representatives and now is president of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, was named as chairman of the Transportation Finance Panel.

Staples was co-chairman of the legislature’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee in 2005 and 2006, when it raised taxes on wholesale fuel receipts to finance $2.3 billion in borrowing for highways, bridges and 400 Metro North rail cars.

That move more than doubled the state’s wholesale fuel tax receipts over the next decade. Combined with an existing retail gasoline tax, it left Connecticut with one of the highest overall fuel taxes of any state in the nation.

“You can’t have a first-class transportation system unless you are willing to pay for it,” Malloy said. “How we pay for it on a sustained basis is the question.”

Malloy acknowledged that the scope of his transportation plan is subject to debate in the General Assembly.

“I’m a governor. I’m the governor of what’s possible, so we’ll continue those discussions. That’s a legitimate discussion to have,” Malloy said.

Malloy said he is not setting parameters on the finance group’s explorations, but he pointedly noted that tolls, even if proposed, could raise at best one third of what the state will need to upgrade transportation.

The Q Bridge on I-95 over New Haven harbor under construction.

Ctmirror.org file photo

The Q Bridge on I-95 over New Haven harbor under construction.

Staples can advise the group on the political challenges of ensuring that revenue raised for transportation is spent on transportation.

The state ultimately spent $1.4 billion of the wholesale fuel tax receipts on non-transportation programs. Over the same decade that fuel tax receipts grew, the state’s transportation program stalled.

The Department of Transportation has designated almost $12 billion worth of major, long-term “unfundable” projects, such as extending Route 11 to the southeastern shoreline or replacing the elevated section of Interstate 84 in Hartford. In other words, the projects are important, but DOT officials don’t know where to find money for the work.

The state has more than 410 bridges with at least one structural deficiency, which is 20 percent more that a decade ago.

More than $3 billion in financing for transportation projects has been approved, but the funds actually haven’t been borrowed and spent.

And the DOT not only has 172 fewer staffers than it did in 2005, but also is almost 150 below where it stood in 2010, when the legislature’s chief investigative panel concluded it was struggling to complete projects on time and under budget.

The other panel members are:

  • Beth Osborne. She is a senior policy advisor to Transportation for America and is a former acting assistant secretary for at the U.S. Department of Transportation.
  • William Bonvillian. He is the director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Washington, D.C., office.
  • Joan Carty. She is president and chief executive officer of the Housing Development Fund.
  • Bert Hunter. He is the chief investment officer of the Connecticut Green Bank.
  • Oz Griebel. He is president and chief executive of the MetroHartford Alliance, the region’s major business association. He was a Republican candidate for governor in 2010.
  • Paul Timpanelli. He is the president and chief executive of the Bridgeport Regional Business Council.
  • Stanley Mickus. He directs marketing and public affairs for Cross Sound Ferry Services.
  • Emil Frankel. He was the state transportation commissioner during the administration of Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. and was assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation during the administration of President George W. Bush.

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, complained that Malloy did not deliver on a promise to consult with all legislative leaders in choosing the panel.

“We were kept in the dark,” he said. “The panel announced today appears to be made up of mostly Democrats, and those who aren’t Democrats are inclined towards tolls or raising the gas tax. Where is the bipartisanship we were promised? Where is our seat at the table? My concern is that this group may be of like mind with the governor and predisposed.”

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