Gov. Ned Lamont and his budget adviser, Melissa McCaw. mark pazniokas / ctmirror.org
Gov. Ned Lamont, flanked by budget chief Melissa McCaw and Transportation Commissioner Joseph Giulietti. mark pazniokas / ctmirror.org

Even at a press conference overlooking the aging I-84 viaduct in Hartford, a favored backdrop for governors seeking new revenue for transportation, Gov. Ned Lamont offered no hard-sell Thursday for his “option” of tolls, demurring when asked if he was pressing legislators for their support.

“I’ve got a different relationship with the legislature than maybe they are used to in the past. I really want them at the table involved in what we are trying to do,” Lamont said.

Instead, Lamont is trying to lead motorists and legislators to his conclusion: Only the electronic tolling of all motor vehicles will raise the revenue Connecticut needs for infrastructure, while the trucks-only proposal of his campaign would raise too little money and be subject to legal challenge by the trucking industry.

“I think at the end of the day, if we’re going to really try to accelerate fixing our roads and bridges, accelerating Metro North, getting the state going again, we need a broader tolling system,” Lamont said.

The administration’s lobbying style, both for tolls and its pitch for the elimination of many sales-tax exemptions, turns on offering alternatives to legislators. 

Don’t like tolls? Then be prepared to raise the gasoline tax. 

Don’t like the idea of extending the sales tax to many exempt services and products? Then be prepared to raise the sales tax rate from 6.35 percent to 7 percent.

Lamont said he is open to any idea, so long as the numbers add up to a balanced budget.

Lamont was joined Thursday by Melissa McCaw, who oversees the state budget as secretary of policy and management, and Transportation Commissioner Joseph Giulietti. They stood on a fifth-floor patio outside McCaw’s office, conveniently overlooking an elevated section of I-84 due for a replacement projected to cost between $2 billion and $5.3 billion.

The viaduct long has been the poster child for Connecticut’s aging transportation infrastructure.

“We’re looking at the best illustration of this need, the 50-year-old I-84 viaduct. We’re spending more than $20 million a year just to keep it in a state of good repair,” Giulietti said. “Ultimately it needs to be replaced. The stretch is the most congested in Connecticut, with more than 175,000 vehicles a day, and that’s three times more than it was designed for.”

It’s a complex project in the design phase. Instead of a viaduct that cuts the city in two, the Department of Transportation is considering designs bringing the highway to grade, or below grade as it courses through the downtown.

On paper, the budget Lamont proposed Wednesday lays out two tolling options: Trucks-only, and all vehicles. But in the numbers as well as the narrative, the administration clearly favors the all-vehicles approach.

“I think it’s the best long-term solution,” Lamont said. “I think it’s something we know we can do in a timely basis. I think it gets the job done, and if people push back and say, forget it, trucks only, then we say we presented you an option.”

Budget documents show projections that tolling trucks only would raise between $45 million and $200 million per year. Tolling all vehicles would raise a projected $800 million per year.

Both projections assume toll revenues would not be available until sometime between 2023 and 2025. McCaw said Connecticut would be hard pressed to keep up basic maintenance on roads, bridges and rails by the mid-2020s absent a full-scale approach to tolling.

“It certainly doesn’t allow us to improve and elevate” transportation infrastructure, she said.

Other aspects of Lamont’s budget assumes the eventual collection of tolls, as it shifts other resources earmarked for transportation back to the rest of the state budget.

Lamont proposed a “debt diet” that restricts bonding for school construction and capital projects at state universities. The legislature had arranged for a portion of this bonding stream, about $250 million per year, to be available for transportation work. The governor’s new budget would end that.

Lamont also wants to cancel a planned transfer of additional sales tax receipts to the budget’s Special Transportation Fund, about $90 million next fiscal year and $175 million in 2020-21.

“The reality is Gov. Lamont’s budget shortchanges transportation,” said Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven. “He is repeating the sins of past administrations, stealing from the Special Transportation Fund and crippling transportation funding.”

Fasano said Lamont is dealing a blow to transportation improvements, at least over the short term.

“His budget makes it more difficult to start infrastructure projects. It will force the state to put needed repairs on hold until tolls are up and running,” he said.

On Thursday, Lamont simultaneously defended his budget and welcomed changes by the General Assembly.

“I did the very best I could. Melissa didn’t sleep for a month doing the same thing, trying to come up with the fairest way to come up with a budget that is actually in balance,” he said. “We did that without raising the income tax. We did that without raising the rate on the sales tax.”

Lamont said one of his goals was to construct a budget with stable revenue sources, allowing lawmakers to end the annual scramble to balance the budget, which often requires reneging on promises made to municipalities or diverting revenue collected on electric bills for energy-efficiency measures.

“Look, it ain’t an easy budget,” he said. “There’s no question about it. We inherited a bit of a mess. I think this is an honest way to get going. It’s a fair way to get going. And again, one more time, legislature: If you have any better ideas, bring them to me. My door is always open.”

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Mark PazniokasCapitol Bureau Chief

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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Keith M. PhaneufState Budget Reporter

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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9 Comments

  1. This is not leadership Governor Lamont. You lied repeatedly about tolls on the campaign trail and now are offering some sort of passive aggressive approach to the legislators that says interesting enough my way or the highway.
    Really setting himself up for one term…

  2. How about ending the GPS ankle bracelet monitoring contract the state has with a private for profit company that charges $180+ per defendant, per month on people already being released on bond. Unnecessary and paid for by the taxpayers… Over the past years Court Services has grown from 50 million to as much as 300 million.

  3. During the campaign neither candidate offered a detailed thoughtful plan on how to resolve CT’s decade long budget, unfunded pension and economic “challenges”. So why be surprised the discussion now mostly surrounds “tolls” ? Odds are increasing we’re seeing a continuation of small adjustments that characterized the previous CT Administration. And no indication our new Governor is reaching out to secure the best available “Top Talent” to resolve our decades long difficulties.

  4. Demand every Dept to cut 5% from their budgets and stop creating new Depts or positions (unless it’s combining two or more and letting those replaced go). That’s just to start with.

    Stop reimbursing for new/renovated schools at much higher percentages for cities. They design and get ‘Taj Mahals’ because the State taxpayer covers much more than in other locales. No Minimum Budget Requirement for education budgets (yes, that’s for towns but lower levels means less needing to be granted from State). No Teacher pension tax exemptions–they negotiated not paying SS for better pensions and pay; let them live with that.

    Finally, stop welcoming illegal aliens in CT. They are a MASSIVE hit to all budgets throughout the State.Follow Iowa’s lead and push for strong E-verify enforcement. It stinks that a law must be passed to enforce existing laws but…. Also, no CDLs for Illegal Aliens. We need to stop incentivizing illegal aliens to be in this State.

    Question for anyone who knows for sure– Do the State Workers’ Unions receive automatic raises when the State Min Wage is raised? Personally, I believe State and Municipal Unions shouldn’t be allowed, but that’s NEVER going to happen in Deep Blue CT.

  5. I wish the Connecticut Mirror would do a little investigative reporting intopossible waste and. Udgetary impropriety of DOT, especially take a lot k at its elaborate headquarters on Berlin Turnpike. I also wish the Connecticut Mirror would look into DOT union labor contracts and labor rules which seem to favor unions and certain contractors in the state John Tartaglia Ridgefield

  6. OUt-of-state trucks and cars–passing through the state–use our highways. So why do so many people want to continue to subsidize them (their states do charge tolls; we don’t subsidize them!) and continue to live with decrepit transportation infrastructure that hamstrings the state’s economy? I don’t get it.

    1. People don’t want anymore taxes on themselves. What does “maximum discount” to CT residents mean? Last I checked we pay zero. Why should we agree to pay a cent more on top of all the taxes we currently pay? CT already has the 2nd highest tax burden in the country. It is 1st in income tax collections, 3rd in property tax collections, and 8th in sales tax collections per capita. Yet it is ranked as the 2nd most insolvent state behind IL. We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem. Our state salaries and pensions are out of control compared to other states and the private sector. It costs us way more to do the same projects as it does in other states. Maybe we should start addressing these things as opposed to adding another tax to make more taxpayers leave. We don’t have a large attractive city like a Boston or NYC so without competitive taxes, who in their right mind would want to move here?

  7. How about hiring the Maine Department of Transportation to administer and maintain our roads. They do it at a fraction of the cost compared to Connecticut.

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