Modern tolls use overhead gantries like this one on the Massachusetts Turnpike. Arnold Reinhold | Creative Commons
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, and Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme

The gulf between Gov. Ned Lamont and Republican legislators on tolls grew even wider Thursday.

While administration officials urged compromise, Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said any long-term funding plan that includes the “toll monster” is a non-starter for his caucus.

“I say no tolls — period,” Fasano said during an early afternoon press conference, adding he believes residents staunchly oppose “allowing another taxing beast into our system. … Now you’ve got this beast, which is the tolls monster.”

Fasano was touting Prioritize Progress, the Republican legislators’ alternative plan to finance long-term transportation upgrades without tolls.

Connecticut chiefly finances transportation upgrades using a combination of state and federal dollars. Most of the state money is borrowing through the sales of transportation bonds on Wall Street. Those bonds are repaid using using fuel tax receipts and other revenues from the budget’s Special Transportation Fund.

But analysts say Connecticut has invested too lightly in transportation for decades, and the $750 million-to-$800 million in state bonding it currently issues annually needs to grow.

Lamont has proposed installing electronic tolls, which would boost transportation fund revenues by nearly 40 percent by 2023 or 2024 — and give Connecticut the revenues to support a more aggressive bonding program.

The administration also estimates as much as 40 percent of toll receipts would be paid by out of state motorists.

But the GOP says Connecticut doesn’t have to wait four or five years to expand transportation work — and it doesn’t have to toll anyone.

Republicans want to redirect other bonding — currently used for school construction, capital programs at state universities and economic development — for transportation.

State funds for transportation construction work would swell from about $800 million per year to $1.4 billion annually under the GOP’s “Prioritize Progress” plan. In contrast, Lamont would essentially keep resources for transportation work constant over the next four or five years until toll receipts arrive.

And Fasano distributed a Department of Transportation analyst’s memo  first disclosed by the CT Mirror on Feb. 27 — that warns the administration’s plan would be too lean over the next four to five years.

The governor’s plan “would have significant impacts on our capital program, severely constricting the number of new projects that advance in the current, and future years,” the DOT wrote.

“I didn’t say it,” Fasano said. “DOT said it. This is an alarm they sent out.”

But some transportation advocates have said the Democratic governor and Republican legislators’ respective plans could easily be merged.

For example, some non-transportation bonds could be redirected to ramp up transportation work over the next few years — and then phased out as toll receipts arrive.

The governor’s budget director and chief of staff, Melissa McCaw and Ryan Drajewicz. mark Pazniokas / ctmirror.org
The governor’s budget director and chief of staff, Melissa McCaw and Ryan Drajewicz. mark Pazniokas / ctmirror.org

But while Fasano said he couldn’t consider any compromise if it involved tolls, Lamont’s chief of staff, Ryan Drajewicz, and budget director, Melissa McCaw, said there is room for middle ground.

“There is a path through this,” said Drajewicz, who attended Fasano’s press conference and addressed reporters immediately afterward.

Connecticut’s motorists and businesses want the state’s aging, overcrowded transportation system upgraded and will not accept partisan gridlock, Drajewicz said, urging Fasano to stop holding press conferences and come negotiate with the governor.

“We’re ready to talk,” he said. “We’re ready to work through this.”

The key, McCaw said, is to develop a compromise built on honest, fiscal principles that allows for key strategic investments in transportation.

If Connecticut makes no changes to its transportation building program, or if it follows the GOP plan, the budget’s Special Transportation Fund is at risk of deficits by the mid-2020s and insolvency shortly thereafter, she said, adding it simply needs more resources over the long haul.

“If there’s no money to fund the debt service,” McCaw said, “that’s a problem.”

The administration is ready to look at any plan that brings long-term stability to state finances, including its transportation program, she said. 

That plan also must make some attempt to restrain overall borrowing, administration officials said. Lamont proposed a “debt diet” in February, arguing that past administrations recommended far too much borrowing for non-transportation programs.

Avatar photo

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.

Join the Conversation

6 Comments

  1. The people of Connecticut do not want tolls; especially when this was not a topic during the election. Lamont then went back on his word which enraged the population even more. Add to this that 50+ tolls in such a small state translates into nothing more than a money grab.
    Enough is enough!!!

  2. Hi Keith,

    How about a comprehensive article on the numbers involved, e.g.

    1) the amount of annual revenue that comes into the transportation fund each year for, say, the last 5 years by funding source (gas tax, bonding, general fund, etc)

    2) How the money in the transportation fund is spent each year (Administration, DMV, Transportation projects, repairs and maintenance, etc) in that same 5 year period.

    3) Does Connecticut really have among the most expensive cost/mile of road in the country? If so, why?

    4) How much money has been robbed by the transportation fund (or intercepted on its way to the transportation fund) each year and what was it used for (general fund, other purposes)? Was any of it replaced by cash or bonds? Who took it?

    5) If no money was taken from the transportation fund, why did we vote on a referendum last year for a “lock box” for transportation funding?

    6) Why, with Billions of dollars going into the transportation fund with one of the highest gas taxes in the country (and two separate gasoline revenue streams), are we apparently so short on infrastructure dollars?

    7) How about an accounting of all that Obama Administration “shovel ready” money that presumably was earmarked for state infrastructure?

    8) How much will it cost to build all the tolls the administration wants?

    9) When tolls are installed, how many cents on a toll dollar actually makes it to the transportation fund after administrative costs, misread license plates, unpaid tolls, operating costs, toll authority administrative costs, etc?

    10) When tolls are installed, how much Federal revenue will we lose each year going forward?

    This subject could really use a deep dive to inform us exactly what is being proposed and why, like you have done for other state fiscal issues over the years.

    Thank you for your consideration.

    1. Thank you for this list of questions that have been nagging me for the past 6 months. It will take some serious investigative reporting to assemble honest answers. Speaker of the House Representative Aresimowcz is not a good source since he called town resolutions against tolls as being ” moroonic” in that they have no idea what the numbers are and therefore the resolutions have no purpose.

  3. Wasn’t there a representative that said 0.665 increase in the sales tax equal 1 billion in revenue? Didn’t the hearing state that the increase in the gas tax would raise the same amount with no infrastructure needing to be built? When will the state actually cut back on spending? What happened to funding the unfunded pension funds?

  4. I honestly have no problem with tolls for fixing our roads and bridges. The problem is you know this money will slowly creep into the general fund and won’t go to those roads .In the mirror you can read about UCONN Susan and her 214k payment for un used vacation time. This is why we are against tolls. When we see these budget itmes fixed .Then lets talk .

Leave a comment