Some observers wonder why people in Connecticut are making such a fuss over proposals to install tolls. After all, most of us pass through tolls regularly. They are part of everyday life in surrounding states, so what is the big deal? Why are protests popping up all over? The opposition has become so contentious that one state representative suggests that towns protesting tolls should be denied state transportation aid.
This is unfortunate when an honest open dialogue is needed on what could become one of the most costly tax increases for residents coming on the heels of the historic increases in 2015 and 2011. Those increases give Connecticut the dubious distinction of having the highest combined federal, state and local tax burden in the nation. The state is losing people and jobs as a direct result.
Connecticut’s economy is an eco-system. Everything is connected. Legislators should be asking how tolls and taxes taken as a whole will impact the state’s reputation as a business- and taxpayer-friendly place. Any increases to the cost of living should be closely scrutinized, especially since Connecticut is one of the only states that has not recovered from the great recession of 2008, and GDP growth of .4% is the weakest in the Northeast.
Tolls are commonplace. However, what is not commonplace is the sheer volume of Connecticut taxes that other states don’t have:
- High income tax that does not allow deductibles
- High car property taxes
- 8 percent gross petroleum gas added to a high gas excise tax
- Real-estate conveyance tax
- Gift and estate taxes
- Social security and pension taxes
- Luxury sales tax
- High licensure fees
- Hundreds of service taxes
- Highest property tax in the country
Other factors that should be considered:
Connecticut could become the most tolled state in the nation. Plans call for tolls on both cars and trucks spread across 53-80 gantries — 30 percent of drivers without EZPass avoid paying a toll. As a result of this and DOT’s high administrative costs (Connecticut spent more than $83,000 per mile in administrative costs compared to $10,000 per mile nationally) show revenue estimates based on toll prices of up to 4 times the highest rate in the country.
Studies find 60-75 percent of toll revenues would come from Connecticut drivers. This would hurt state businesses and workers whose jobs require daily travel.
Congestion toll pricing increases during peak travel periods but a typical worker cannot dictate their schedule. Congestion pricing is regressive as it penalizes those who least can afford it. A toll could become a $240 monthly pay cut per month.
Connecticut receives approx. $528.6 million from the federal government to make up for lack of tolls. Those funds could be lost if tolls move forward.
Higher truck tolls equal higher prices that will be passed along to consumers in the form of higher priced goods and services.
Drivers avoiding tolls will detour through local roads creating congestion and wear and tear on roadways not accustomed to tractor-trailers and increased traffic.
One bill would allow the DOT to construct tolls almost immediately without the approval of the General Assembly if no vote is taken within 15 days of convening the legislature. Another bill creates a Transportation Authority that would decide toll placement and rates also without a vote taken. This would absolve legislators from taking responsibility from enacting tolls or raising prices drastically like the $40 congestion pricing for 10 miles one way trip on I-66 in Virginia. These decisions should not circumvent those who are answerable to the public.
Transportation improvements are needed, but tolls are not the solution. “Prioritize Progress” is an alternative funding plan that utilizes current state resources to provide $65 billion for infrastructure projects over 30 years. It requires that all bonding, beyond the state’s core needs such as school construction, must go to transportation infrastructure. It guarantees a steady flow of funding and operates within the state’s bond cap without burdening people with tolls or taxes.
The state has yet to recover job losses from the great recession. Rather than piling on, lawmakers need to control costs and embrace alternatives. Commuters are looking for relief, not another historic tax increase. Call it what you will- a toll is tax and a big deal for Connecticut!
Toni Boucher is a businesswoman and former State Senate Co- Chair and State House Ranking Member of the Legislature’s Transportation committee.
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