Modern tolls use overhead gantries like this one on the Massachusetts Turnpike (Arnold Reinhold / Creative Commons)
Modern tolls use overhead gantries like this one on the Massachusetts Turnpike (Arnold Reinhold / Creative Commons)

Gov. Ned Lamont reversed himself Saturday, announcing he will propose electronic tolling on cars as well as trucks when he unveils his first state budget Wednesday.

Lamont, who insisted frequently throughout the campaign he would only support tolls on trucks, conceded in a Saturday op-ed piece what transportation advocates had been saying for months: tolling on trucks would not produce sufficient revenue.

“Beyond an inconvenience, the crushing congestion we experience on I-95, I-91, I-84 and the Merritt Parkway, in particular, is a real challenge we must address and overcome if we are to maximize our economic development potential,” the governor wrote. “Our proximity in mileage to New York City means nothing if it takes 90 minutes to get there from Stamford on the road, and over an hour by train.

Tolling trucks alone “would provide at least some revenue to maintain our system, though not enough to upgrade it,” Lamont added.

Gov. Ned Lamont

Connecticut could mitigate toll costs on its residents by maximizing EZ-pass discounts, especially for frequent drivers, the governor wrote. Another option would be to increase the Earned Income Tax Credit within the state income tax system, but this credit only is available to poor, working households.

The governor opposes increasing state fuel taxes. “Gasoline tax revenues have been flat for 10 years and are expected to begin declining as cars become more efficient, and as the sales of electric vehicles increase,” he wrote.

A 2018 study by the Department of Transportation projected tolls could raise as much as $1 billion per year, though the state’s net gain also would depend on the level of discounts provided to Connecticut motorists.

Lamont tipped his hand on tolls earlier this week when he proposed a new “debt diet” to reduce annual state borrowing.

That “diet” pertained to general obligation bonds — which largely are issued to finance municipal school construction and capital projects at public colleges and universities. Transportation infrastructure projects largely are paid for with a combination of federal grants and state bonding. And those state bonds usually are repaid using resources — such as gasoline tax receipts — from the budget’s Special Transportation Fund.

But over the past two fiscal years, as Connecticut officials have struggled to agree on new funding options for transportation, they’ve dedicated $250 million per year in G.O. bonding for transportation work.

Lamont’s new “debt diet” puts an end to using those G.O. bonds for transportation purposes.

“I cannot support this type of borrowing to pay for ongoing and continuous repairs and upgrades — it is not sustainable or wise,” he wrote.

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby

Lamont’s Republican opponent in last November’s election, Bob Stefanowski, charged repeatedly throughout the campaign that Lamont would violate his pledge and recommend tolls on all types of vehicles.

“I’m saddened by the fact that there’s yet another politician who says one thing and does another,” said House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby. “He either didn’t have enough information to speak about it in an intellectually honest way or he was just saying something to get elected. Either one is not good.”

Klarides said she believes the House Republican Caucus generally opposes tolls on any vehicles.

“Governor Lamont’s announcement that he will be proposing tolls on all Connecticut residents is a disappointing step backward. It’s a false choice of tolls versus no tolls, when in fact other solutions to properly fund transportation do exist,” said Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven. “In addition, telling people not to worry because residents will only have to pay ‘discounted’ tolls is a disingenuous attempt to curtail criticism. Currently, residents do not pay any tolls in Connecticut. So you can tout a ‘discount’ all you want, but the truth is families are going to be paying more than they already do today if tolls are installed.”

Don Shubert, president of the Connecticut Construction Industry Association, applauded Lamont’s decision on tolls.

“It’s well settled that Connecticut’s transportation infrastructure and congestion are among the worst in the nation,” Shubert said. “It’s going to take billions to correct the situation and this is the only way we can think of where the Connecticut taxpayers are not going to have to pay 100 percent of the bill.”

The DOT study estimated about 40 percent of toll receipts would come from out-of-state motorists.

A transportation policy study group appointed by Lamont just after the election recommended that he set aside this pledge and impose tolls on all vehicles.

The group, composed of transportation advocates, planners, state and municipal leaders, labor officials and others also recommended discount transit passes for all public college and university students, a new state program to leverage private investment in transportation upgrades, and a streamlined hiring process to improve an under-staffed state Department of Transportation.

Lamont’s predecessor, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy advocated frequently for electronic tolling on all vehicles during his last two years in office.

Malloy warned repeatedly that unless Connecticut devotes more revenues to transportation, the state will be hard pressed to do anything more than maintain an aging, overcrowded transportation system that is hindering economic development. Projects that would fall into limbo, he predicted, include: completing the rebuild of the “Mixmaster” junction of Interstate 84 and Route 8, replacing the elevated section of I-84 in Hartford, or widening Interstate 95 in the state’s southwestern corner.

Updated at 4:10 p.m. with comments from Senate Minorty Leader Len Fasano.

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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  1. I think we should sell the state to Amazon. Then send all our legislators to the Amazon Campus for some down to earth economics courses. Along with that they should attend classes on forensic science and the death of new born babies. Lastly have them go back to grammar school and have them use CORE curricula subjects.

  2. 40% are out of state drivers? No
    How much for an EZ pass? TBD
    Saturday news dump? Pretty cute…
    Just another tax? Yup
    False campaigning? Absolutely!
    82 tolls? Are you kidding!

  3. It’s “unsettling” (to be polite) that early in his term Gov. Lamont raises prospects for tolls – an unlikely major new revenue source – rather than focus on our decade long standing major issues, e.g. stagant economy/employment and billion dollar budget deficits. But neither candidate frontally addressed these issues in detail during the campaign. So “hope springs eternal”.

    1. The need to address the horrible congestion and poor condition of the State highways in CT has for YEARS been recognized as an important and neglected priority — I am glad Gov. Lamoht recognized this and plans to do something about it.

  4. Honestly, let’s save the whining for another day especially from the state’s republicans who could have selected a legitimate candidate to oppose Lamont but instead opted to believe the ridiculous promise of false prophet.

  5. Tolls should never have been taken down. The amount of lost revenue over the past 25+ years is staggering, and our roads, bridges, and rail systems have clearly been damaged as a result. There is no free lunch.

  6. Completing the rebuild of the “Mixmaster” junction of Interstate 84 and Route 8, replacing the elevated section of I-84 in Hartford, or widening Interstate 95 in the state’s southwestern corner are not nearly enough to solve the traffic congestion issues we have in CT. Those projects are needed and we do need to pay for them, but we need more than that. I’m in favor of tolls if the money they generate is put in a transportation lock box, but what CT really needs is a plan to significantly improve the traffic issues we have, not just fund a few projects.

    1. they always squander the money….everyone knows that….tell us what percent of the budget goes to public workers retire before 65 and over $100k pensions?

    2. How right you are!! But plans mean nothing unless there is also a plan for PAYING for them. Tolls are essential because we cannot just keep indebt ourselves and passing the cost to future generations. Those days are over!!

    3. Susanne,
      If I were assured that 100% of the money collected from tolls would go directly toward transportation, I might reluctantly agree with you regarding instituting tolls. Unfortunately I have ZERO faith in our state. Most of this new revenue will unfortunately end up in the general fund like all other dedicated funds were in the past.

  7. So CT residents will pay 60% of the tolls.
    No mention of investing in trains and buses to lighten the load on I-95. Widening it would be costly, plus the resistance in Fairfield County will be substantial – as it ought to be.
    No mention of taxing the rich.
    How is the Dems are pro this new tax and the GOP is opposed?
    How is it both parties want to eliminate the Estate Tax? Are they all retiring to Florida?
    It’s going to be a bumpy ride!

  8. I applaud Gov. Lamont’s decision on tolls. While I travel extensively on the Merritt, and hence will be among those that pay those tolls, I strongly feel that CT needs to invest in its roads, and those who DRIVE on those roads should be charged for their construction and upkeep. Mass transit will then become cost-competitive, which will in turn help relieve congestion.

  9. No surprise here. Not one mention of trimming the size of government, or reducing costs. It’s all about how to tax more. Haven’t the Democrats looked at the number of for sale signs on suburban and rural homes. In my neighborhood over a dozen people have sold their homes. People are leaving in droves.
    Did they forget that G.E moved to Boston along with Pizer, & Bristol Meyers. Maybe Democrats will wake up (they probably won’t) when ESPN, UTC, Sikorsky,and Aetna leave. Not one nation or civilization has ever taxed themselves into prosperity.

    Sad part about LaMont’s reasoning for instituting tolls is a complete falsehood. Like the Lottery, where the money was suppose to be directed directly into education, it was transferred into the general fund. Same happened with the gross receipts and added gasoline tax after the Mianus River disaster in 1983. The money collected through tolls will too end up in the general fund. Very little if any will be used for transportation.

  10. There are no good options here. Now that we apparently pulled this year’s tax out of the hat to balance the budget, what will we do next year when more unfunded state retirement benefit expense comes due? Are there no expense- based solutions to offer or are will we just continue to tax and spend our way to “prosperity” here in Connecticut?

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