Gov. Ned Lamont: 'I put som oef you in a pickle.' mark pazniokas /
Democratic legislators listening to Gov. Ned Lamont’s talk on tolls. mark pazniokas /
Democratic legislators listening to Gov. Ned Lamont’s talk on tolls. mark pazniokas /

Gov. Ned Lamont simultaneously delivered an apology and pep talk to the House Democratic caucus Wednesday night, acknowledging that his highway tolling proposal had put fellow Democrats “in a pickle,” while defending the plan as a necessary and overdue boost to Connecticut’s lagging economy.

Hands on hips, Lamont spoke for seven minutes to Democrats in their caucus room, a place typically off limits to the press and visitors. He assured them he was deeply committed to the fight for the passage of tolls — and the re-election of those who joined him. Lawmakers stood and applauded as he left without taking questions from them or the press.

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, had recently suggested the visit, and with a few minutes notice to the press, Lamont and his senior staff made the walk from his corner office on the second floor of the west side of the State Capitol to the caucus room on the east side. Lamont quickly told them he was demanding a tough vote.

“I know that,” Lamont said, his voice dropping as he scanned the room. “I’m asking every one of you to cast a really difficult vote.”

He is not asking from a position of strength. By one recent measure, his approval rating is among the bottom five of U.S. governors, undoubtedly the consequence of his unexpected call for a comprehensive system of highway tolls, not the limited levy on trucks that he proposed during his campaign last year.

After describing a vote for tolls as one of the most important things they could do to get the state moving again, Lamont circled back to where he began, acknowledging his role as the proximate cause of their political jeopardy.

“I owe you something else,” Lamont said. “I put some of you in a pickle, because I ran for office, and you know I said I think we can do this probably with trucks. We’ll get started with trucks only tolling.”

Lamont said a truck-only tolling system in Rhode Island is still the subject of litigation. Nothing has been clarified in courts, and such limited tolling would not raise the money Connecticut needs to keep its special transportation fund solvent.

“I just don’t want us to nickel and dime this any longer,” Lamont said.

His audience listened politely. No one interrupted him. 

“I know I put you in a tough vote,” Lamont said. “It’s the most important vote you can take, and I’m going to be standing here with each and every one of you. I’m going to be putting my shoulder to the wheel.”

Aresimowicz stood behind Lamont and to his left.

“We’re going to raise money for this caucus. I’m going to have the business guys coming in,” Lamont said. “Labor’s going to be standing up for you, and I’m going to be standing up for you.”

The lawmakers didn’t react.

The mood broke when Lamont described stopping into a Republican meeting on tolls on his way home to Greenwich earlier this week.

“I couldn’t stop myself. I walked into that room. Everybody got quiet,” he said.

They laughed when Lamont described challenging the leader of a grassroots anti-tolls group.

“Who’s that guy?” Lamont asked.

Someone yelled the name Patrick Sasser, who has mixed it up with Aresimowicz.

“Sasser, yeah,” Lamont said. “Joe’s friend.”

They all laughed.

The tolls plan still is a work in progress. Lamont stressed that it would raise significant funds from out of state motorists, and that his administration would lessen the blow on Connecticut motorists with discounts.

“It is not an easy vote, but it is the right vote,” Lamont said. “And I need you all to stand up.”

They laughed when he suggested that the House take the lead on tolls: “Maybe the Senate could use a push from the House.”

He thanked them.

“Back to you, Mr. Speaker.”

Gov. Ned Lamont: ‘I put some of you in a pickle.’ mark pazniokas /
Gov. Ned Lamont: ‘I put some of you in a pickle.’ mark pazniokas /

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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  1. “Labor’s going to be standing up for you.” Yep. Because this is all about keeping the gravy train rolling for Labor. It has nothing to do with transportation. SMH.

    1. Good point. It’s about creating a bunch of new government jobs and union construction projects. Every one of those new state employees is a vote for the dominant party. Plus one from each spouse, adult child and friend. It’s a legal way to buy votes.

  2. Democrats I Believe know in 2020 they can get clobbered at the polls for voting for tolls! And also of Neds untruthfullness of saying,one thing and doing they other. Ned has a reputation of not being honest with the Ct tax payers! He needs approval of tolls now because he.s using projected revenues in his budjet purposal

  3. CT dems know the Ct voters will take the anger out on them at the polls in 2020.I also believe law makers know Lamont is not an honest man.In reality Lamont,needs the,projected toll revenue to use in his budjet porposal in which case draining the STF to support union pension is justified.Gov Lamont is not a problem solver he’s the problem with out facing the facts that Ct is broke and the cancer causing problem is,pensions that,need to be addressed

      1. I.’ve never ever heard of a pension contract ever exceeding more then 4 years.Ct law makers must all agree on revisiting the Sebac contract to right the wrong that was done by the Malloy administration giving such lavish and lengthy contract that favers and protects the union over the well being of Ct residents and tax payers

      2. CT mirror. Your answer is simple. Lamont admin should take the SBEAC to court fighting that the agreement is illegal. Of course this won’t happen but it could solve our permanent budget crisis. It will take 5-10 years but eventually get this case to the supreme court and watch that 5-4 conservative majority kill the unions that are killing us tax payers.

      3. With respect, Please do more investigative reporting on the actual contracts themselves, start with…

        1. Are the taxpayers of CT properly represented in the room during labor negotiations? Why is there no transparency in negotiations, not to mention no debate on the contract terms.

        2. Where are the minutes of the negotiations, were meetings with uniin management recorded and if so make these documents made public, so we can better understand why the final contracts are so unbalanced?

        3. Given Connecticut’s reputation with multiple public officials enriching themselves through corrupt schemes was there a quid pro quo, specifically for votes or special concessions to a protected class?

  4. The Governor has yet to make the claim that highway tolls will rejuvenate CT’s decade long stagnant economy. Or refute the obvious that highway tolls is another form of higher taxes. In running for office the Governor did promise attention to rejuvenating CT’s economy. But did not suggest that raising tolls was one of his preferred solutions.

  5. Lamont and the whole pro-tolls argument is bogus. We give tons of gas taxes for roads – they just steal them for their Hartford gravy train. Stop them and their plunder of the people of CT NOW. Our rulers would literally melt to the ground if they ever told the truth. Come to the NO Tolls CT rally Saturday 5/18 at noon at the Capital.

  6. Yes, it’s a tough vote, because 59% of CT voters oppose it. Gov Lament talks about political courage — well, how about a referendum on tolls? That would demonstrate some courage. It will never happen. Glad to see he’s in the bottom 5 of governors, though. Echoes of Governor Malfoy!

  7. Of course tolls are a difficult vote.
    Be unpopular now, get money in five years doesn’t sound promising to any politician.
    The support of newspapers isn’t the same as the approval of the public.
    Still, the Governor can’t be embarrassed in public about his surprising number of errors so far. Expect the issue to hover until the real current budget problems somehow prevent a vote. Legislators could promise him that they’ll consider tolls during the first deficit session as consolation.

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