Patrick Sasser, founder and leader of No Tolls CT rallied with a small group of poll opponents at the Capitol Thursday. They delivered petitions with more than 100,000 signatures to the governor's office.
Patrick Sasser, founder and leader of No Tolls CT rallied with a small group of poll opponents at the Capitol Thursday. They delivered petitions with more than 100,000 signatures to the governor's office.
Gov. Ned Lamont Frankie Graziano / Connecticut Public Radio

With less than four weeks left in the legislative session, Gov. Ned Lamont made a bipartisan appeal for compromise on tolls.

The Democratic governor pledged to dedicate more resources to transportation construction between now and 2024 — the first year toll receipts might be available. This generally was recognized as one of the soft parts of Lamont’s plan.

But the governor also insisted any bargain would have to include electronic tolls, saying this was essential to provide long-term fiscal stability to a transportation program otherwise headed for insolvency.

“I am more than willing to entertain a compromise that shores up our Special Transportation Fund, provides for some short-term borrowing until the point at which tolls come online,” Lamont wrote in an open letter to the General Assembly.

The governor wants to put electronic tolls on interstates 84, 91 and 95 and on the Merritt Parkway with a base charge of 4.4 cents per mile — before discounts are offered to Connecticut motorists.

This would raise $800 million per year for the budget by 2024, the administration says, with 30 to 40 percent coming from out-of-state motorists. Discounts would be provided to Connecticut residents and to frequent travelers.

But Lamont also had proposed canceling additional resources pledged to the transportation program over the next few years.

Republicans in the Senate and House say that with additional funding — a mix of bonding and sales tax receipts — Connecticut’s transportation program can get by without tolls.

Their plan, “Prioritize Progress,” actually would dedicate roughly $2.4 billion more to transportation construction than Lamont’s would over the next four years combined.

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano

The governor had met with Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, in recent weeks to see if a bipartisan deal on transportation financing could be reached.

Fasano expressed disappointment Thursday that Lamont “remains unwilling to consider alternatives to fund transportation over the long-term that do not involve tolls and new taxes.”

“The proposal outlined in Governor Lamont’s letter today is the same ‘plan’ he has been talking about for months,” Fasano added. “It is a plan that is based on hypothetical sketch numbers, that has never been shared with the federal government, and that takes the full General Assembly out of the decision making when it comes to how tolls will actually impact our residents and local communities. Gov. Lamont’s proposal is a new tax not only on residents here and now, but on all future generations who will be paying tolls for years to come.”

The reaction was no less bleak from House Republicans.

“Currently there are no Republican votes in the House for tolls and we’ve conducted a series of forums in the state that have elicited anti-toll sentiments,” said Pat O’Neill, spokesman for the House Republican Caucus.

But Lamont says the Republican plan is not a long-term solution, since the Special Transportation Fund still would plunge into insolvency under that proposal within a decade.

And once Connecticut catches up on some of the transportation maintenance it’s deferred for years, it actually could use toll receipts to pay cash for capital projects, rather than borrowing and running up huge interest costs, the administration says.

“I won’t entertain a compromise in which the numbers don’t add up, the excessive borrowing crowds out other needed and necessary investments elsewhere and the approach is simply a band-aid to buy more time until the point at which we can revisit this conversation in another two years — all while our roads and rail continue to decline and economy limps along,” Lamont wrote. 

Patrick Sasser, founder and leader of No Tolls CT delivered petitions with more than 100,000 signatures to the governor's office on Thursday. Chief of Staff Ryan Drajewicz received them and met with Sasser for a conversation.
Patrick Sasser, founder and leader of No Tolls CT delivered petitions with more than 100,000 signatures to the governor’s office on Thursday. Chief of Staff Ryan Drajewicz received them and met with Sasser for a conversation.
Patrick Sasser, founder and leader of No Tolls CT delivered petitions with more than 100,000 signatures to the governor’s office on Thursday. Chief of Staff Ryan Drajewicz received them and met with Sasser for a conversation.

The governor also hinted tolls would improve Connecticut’s standing with Wall Street, where strong fiscal practices are rewarded with lower interest rates on borrowing. “The ratings agencies are waiting to see our next move,” he wrote.

“The transportation crisis in Connecticut is too large a problem to get bogged down in partisan politics,” Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, who supports tolls, said in response. “We must all rise above narrow partisanship and find a bipartisan solution to rebuilding and strengthening our state’s transportation infrastructure. All of Connecticut — Democrats, Republicans, and independents — looks to the entire General Assembly to work together on developing a sustainable answer for our transportation challenges.”

Democratic House leaders did not comment immediately after Lamont released his letter.

As Lamont prepared to release his letter to lawmakers Thursday, toll foes gathered on the steps of the Capitol to – once again – decry the governor’s plans. After a bit of speech making, they delivered petitions to the governor’s office they said contain more than 100,000 signatures of Connecticut residents opposed to Lamont’s tolling plan.

Opponents of tolls will hold a protest outside the Capitol May 18.

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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10 Comments

  1. Instead of referring to it as a transportation bill the proposal to stick tolls on every major highway the legislation should rightly be called the “Lamont and Democrats payback to construction firms for campaign contributions Act.” That is what is really going on here.

    I just pity the folks who live on the secondary roads that are now going to be swamped with people like me avoiding the tolls.

    I thought Malloy was the King of Liars, but he is an amateur compared to Lamont.

  2. His letter specifically says 40% of toll revenue will come from out of state drivers. Show me the math please because I don’t believe it.

  3. “I am more than willing to entertain a compromise that shores up our Special Transportation Fund,”

    So says the person who froze dedicated car sales taxes from that very Fund…aka “the lockbox.”

  4. Fool me once shame on you ! Fool me twice shame on me! Lamont has no credibility and he lies!

  5. I love when partisan Democrats ask for bipartisan support from the same people that they called partisan and racist yesterday.

  6. No comprehensive state development plan except to fleece commuters and intensify the statewide development/tax-base inequity even as development/traffic in lower Fairfield County becomes the limiting factor in statewide economic growth… Tolls are just a real wealth transfer (factor in huge opportunity costs) from the rest of the state to the Gold Coast… Beware of Ned — he might be even more devious (and ineffectual) than Malloy…

  7. This “compromise” was obvious. That the Governor had to bring it up himself shows the need for greater support. Democrats realize that tolls have proven unpopular, not inevitable.
    And 2024 is 5 budgets from now. Unless the state borrows from future revenues, the toll issue has little current significance. But transportation has come to require action. That’s more revenues needed for a budget already out of balance, with new taxes controversial.
    Borrowing is immediately cheaper than paying, so something like the Republican plan is the most likely outcome. The Governor’s debt diet may be popular on Wall Street, but it’s an impediment to the legislature. I don’t think it’ll prevail, especially with Democrats already restive about the Governor’s control over bonded expenditures.
    I expect this to be at least one more instance in which the legislature over-rules the Governor.

  8. Further taxing CT residents in a state with a decade long stagnant economy for presumed benefits available only beginning in 2024 illustrates the Governor’s modest concern for CT’s decade long stagnant economy. So far we have no examples of other States jump starting their long stagnant economies through new taxes. Will CT be the first example ? Making economic history ?

  9. Given that the higher amount of collectible tolls is 800 million then 40 percent is 320 million meaning 480 million will be collected from CT citizens. It also means the the democrats that said they would not pass any additional taxes that would effect the middle class and veterans but even their own think tanks say that tolls will cost poor and middle class more than any other economy group.

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