Lembo will oppose $10 M analysis of tolls, but plan likely still to pass

CTMIRROR.ORG

State Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo (file photo)

State Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo said Wednesday he will not support Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposal to borrow $10 million to fund a new analysis on electronic tolling.

Opposition from Lembo and others on the 10-member State Bond Commission will likely not be enough to stop the panel from approving the funds when it meets on July 25, however.

Lembo, who is one of eight Democrats on the commission, said the question of whether to restore tolls to Connecticut’s highways should be resolved by the General Assembly.

“The Bond Commission should not act as a replacement for legislative action,” Lembo said. “While the subject of electronic tolling — and infrastructure funding as a whole — is important to debate and discuss, I do not support financing this study through bonding without legislative directive. These decisions should be left to the next governor and legislature.”

Lembo is the only non-legislator on the bond commission who is seeking re-election.

“This comprehensive study is essential to providing the legislature with the information they need — and have requested — to address the state’s future transportation funding,” Chris McClure, spokesman for the governor’s budget office, said Wednesday in response to Lembo’s statement. “We face massive costs associated with our transportation infrastructure for the foreseeable future and we must have a concrete understanding of how we will address those costs in order to make our state more economically competitive. We cannot continue to operate as though inaction is inconsequential.”

A bill to order an analysis of electronic tolling died on the House of Representatives’ calendar when lawmakers adjourned on May 9.

Malloy, who announced last year he would not seek a third term, declined to support tolls until after he had won his second term.

The governor said repeatedly during his 2014 campaign for re-election that while he was not proposing tolls, he would be willing to discuss them should legislators choose to raise the issue.

Lembo likely won’t be the only “no” vote on the 10-member commission. Republican legislators have been unanimous in their opposition to tolls. The two-highest ranking Republicans on the legislature’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, Sen. L. Scott Frantz of Greenwich and Rep. Chris Davis of Ellington, both also serve on the bond commission and both have been outspoken in their opposition to tolls. 

Still, these three likely no votes don’t appear to be enough to keep Malloy’s initiative from passing.

The governor effectively controls three votes on the bond commission. He has one seat himself, while two others belong to his budget director, Ben Barnes, and his commissioner of administrative services, Melody Currey.

The top two Democrats on the finance committee, Sen. John Fonfara of Hartford and Rep. Jason Rojas of East Hartford, also serve on the commission. Both supported an analysis of tolls when a bill to order one appeared before the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, and both said Wednesday they would support the $10 million bond allocation on July 25.

“I think the governor recognizes that a lot of work has to be done leading up to the next governor and the next legislature taking office,” Fonfara said, adding that Connecticut continues to forfeit hundreds of millions of dollars it could collect annually from tolls — including funds from out-of-state motorists.

“Every day we are foregoing badly needed revenue to shore up our transportation funding,” he said. 

“This analysis provides the ability to get things moving,” Rojas said. “It is going to take a lot of time to get things planned out.”

The remaining two seats on the bond commission belong to Attorney General George Jepsen and state Treasurer Denise L. Nappier, neither of whom are seeking re-election.

A spokesman for Nappier could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon, but Jepsen’s office said the attorney general would support the governor’s proposal.

That would give Malloy at least six votes for the $10 million bond allocation on the 10-member commission.

The governor cannot implement tolls without legislative approval. 

Malloy, who is not seeking re-election, said Tuesday that he would nonetheless seek funds to launch the study to ensure the next governor and the 2019 legislature are prepared to debate the issue.

The governor has pressed lawmakers throughout his second term to commit to a two-to-three-decade-long rebuild of the state’s aging, overcrowded transportation infrastructure — something the governor says cannot be accomplished without a major new funding source.

State Department of Transportation officials have said very preliminary estimates show that tolls could be fully installed by 2022, and could yield $600 million to $800 million per year in new revenue. 

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