Larson pitches carbon tax to fund $1.8 trillion infrastructure bill

Kyle Constable /

U.S. Rep. John Larson delivers an impassioned plea Tuesday for lawmakers to pass a national infrastructure package.

East Hartford — Although the prospect of a major infrastructure bill is waning in Congress, Rep. John Larson remains optimistic and is seeking nearly $2 trillion to overhaul the nation’s infrastructure.

On Tuesday, Larson, who is spearheading an effort to build a multibillion-dollar tunnel to replace the congested I-84 and I-91 interchange in downtown Hartford, said he will introduce a 10-year, $1.8 trillion infrastructure package funded by a carbon tax. He’s calling it the “America Wins Act” – a nod to the president’s repeated claim that America does not win anymore.

“How it will be funded is what the debate will be in the United States Congress,” Larson said at a press conference to announce his plan.

He made his announcement at Great River Park in East Hartford with both I-84 and I-91 in the background.

But Larson’s ambitious plan may face the same troubles that plague President Donald Trump’s proposal for a $1 trillion transportation plan. Trump hit his 200-day mark in the White House this week, with many of his 100-day priorities undone, including the infrastructure plan.

Infrastructure remains stuck near at the end of Congress’s priorities, which, after the failure of GOP efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, include tough negotiations over the budget, the debt ceiling, a tax overhaul and efforts to toughen immigration laws.

Unlike Larson’s plan, Trump’s proposal would not rely exclusively on federal funds. It would instead use $200 billion in federal spending to attract an additional $800 billion in investment from private investors and local governments over the next 10 years.

That has worried many Democrats – and some Republicans – who say needed local infrastructure programs may not attract private investors.

Kyle Constable / file photo

U.S. Rep. John Larson, before delivering his remarks, stands on the eastern bank of the Connecticut River.

The House Transportation Committee has no plans to work on an infrastructure bill. In the Senate, GOP leaders say they may take up the issue in the fall, but it’s more likely to slide into next year.

Congress approved a comprehensive transportation bill, the FAST Act, in 2015 and, before Trump’s election, was not planning to reauthorize transportation spending for at least five years.

Larson, a member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, is undeterred.

He said he will introduce the bill to the House Ways and Means Committee when Congress returns from recess in September, where he expects it to receive “broad-based Democratic support.”

But does it have any Republican support in Congress?

“Not yet,” Larson conceded.

But he’s confident Congress will work on a big transportation bill.

“I think there’s a number of things that could get done this fall when we get back –  and I think infrastructure is at the top of the list,” Larson said

To help fund his plan, Larson would impose a new carbon tax.

A carbon tax would target the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouses gases that result from the burning of gasoline, coal and other fossil fuels. Many Democrats support a carbon tax as a way to address climate change.

But they could not reach an agreement on the issue when they had control of Congress and a Democratic president – Barack Obama – was in the White House.

Taxing carbon emissions is opposed by many in the Trump administration.

Larson’s bill also would include a tax rebate to help people offset what Larson said would be an inevitable increase in the cost of carbon-based energy sources and to provide transitional assistance to displaced workers in the coal industry.

Kyle Constable /

Rep. Tony Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, co-chair of the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee

A new transportation bill would allow states to fund what they determine are priority projects.

Larson hopes the 184/I-91 tunnel is among them.

At Tuesday’s press conference, several voiced support for the tunnel.

State Rep. Tony Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, the co-chair of the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee, said the economic impact of the project would be comparable to Boston’s “Big Dig.”

“By allowing this to happen, we will open up this river with restaurants, bars, housing,” Guerrera said. “It would put us on the map now and forever.”

Courtesy of U.S. Rep. John Larson

An early concept sketch of U.S. Rep. John Larson’s proposal to bury I-91 and I-84 underground in Hartford and East Hartford. The proposed tunnels are shown in yellow and the existing highways in blue. The cloverleaf intersection would be under Colt Park.