Gov. Ned Lamont mark pazniokas / ctmirror.org
Gov. Ned Lamont, flanked by Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz and OPM Secretary Melissa McCaw. mark pazniokas / ctmirror.org

To no one’s surprise, Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday he will use his authority to call the General Assembly into special session this summer in a renewed effort to return tolls to Connecticut’s highways. There is no guarantee, however, legislators will answer that call.

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, supports the use of tolls to finance the modernization of the state’s aging transportation infrastructure, but he warned that the governor and his allies need to regain the public-relations battle lost to opponents.

“At best — at best — tolls are a 50-50 proposition in this state,” Aresimowicz said. “And those that are working very hard to disrupt that are putting a lot of misinformation out there.”

Aresimowicz’s comments reflect a belief among lawmakers that the Lamont administration botched the rollout of tolls in February, giving Republicans, the trucking industry and others an opportunity to frame tolls as just another demand on residents.

Before there is a call for a special session, there needs to be a new plan.

Ryan Drajewicz concedes need for “a reboot.” mark pazniokas / ctmirror.org
Ryan Drajewicz concedes need for “a reboot.” mark pazniokas / ctmirror.org

“I agree with the speaker in the sense of a reboot,” said Ryan Drajewicz, the governor’s chief of staff. “Now that we are out of session, the boil is now coming down to a simmer and eventually cooling off. What we want to do is really go back to where we initially started, where this is too big of an issue for the administration itself to take on.

“What we want to do is convene leadership from both sides of the aisle.”

The governor said Democrats and Republicans agree that the state needs between $700 million and $800 million in new annual revenue for transportation. The fight is over where to find those dollars.

The part-time General Assembly ended its annual session at midnight Wednesday, two days after the passage of a $43 billion, two-year budget. It erased a projected shortfall of $3.7 billion without raising income taxes and leaves the state with budget reserves of $2 billion.

“That’s the national headline,” said Lamont, a Democrat and former small business owner who took office in January. “This is a state that had a tough time over the last couple of decades and I think it sends a message loud and clear that this is a fresh start for the state.”

With the budget resolved and the regular session over, the question now is whether the administration has a better chance of finding a path to tolls. So far, Republicans, especially in the House, have been inalterably opposed to tolls.

“We are genuinely open to the other perspectives, and we are going to aggressively pursue that. It’s not going to be our way or the highway,” Drajewicz said. “It’s going to be an honest effort to put all ideas on the table. We’d be foolish to go into special session with a rinse and repeat sort of approach.”

Legislators adopted their own limited call to return in special session, confining the agenda to adopting a bond package for school construction and other capital projects. But they acknowledge another try to find new revenue for transportation awaits them.

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, right, and Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney can expect an invitation to a tolls meeting soon. mark pazniokas / ctmirror.org

There seemed to be little appetite Thursday for exploring whether Bridgeport Mayor Joseph P. Ganim should be given a chance to bring a casino to his city. The tribal owners of the state’s two casinos say they are willing to open a small casino, investigating $100 million in the city, but only if Ganim can convince the state to give them exclusive rights to sports betting and other financial inducements.

“My sense is, the tribes deal still seems a little half-baked to me,” Lamont said. “So I don’t know if it’s to be worth going into special session.”

Tolls are back at the top of the governor’s agenda.

If Republicans stay on the sidelines, the margins for success are thin: The consent of 76 of the 91 Democrats in the House and 18 of the 22 Democrats in the Senate. Democrats say privately that they currently see 14 solid yes votes, four hard no votes, and four open to persuasion.

Aresimowicz said he believes he has the sufficient votes necessary for passage in the House.

Lamont acknowledged talking to lawmakers skittish about the issue.

“We’re going to deal with this head on,” Lamont said, describing dozens of lawmakers telling him they understand the need for tolls. He said they say,  “Probably you’re doing the right thing, governor. I understand that. But it’s a tough vote for me to take.”

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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15 Comments

  1. No tolls! Toll revenue collected WILL end up in the General Fund for pensions. It’s a money grab pure and simple. The Federal government will not approve the toll plan being touted by state Dems. There is no spending plan just a wish list of projects. Toll rates will just go progressively up once established.
    Show me the math that demonstrates out of state drivers will generate 40% of toll revenue!!!

  2. With the GA continuing to rob/divert the transportation fund to pay for operations (to the tune of $170M in this budget), why should the public trust that that they will be honest about tolls?

  3. With the economic changes coming out of DC, our income side of the spreadsheet may be quite better. Tolls are one too many changes in the same year without enough study. I think this session is another attempt to prop up and persuade more people to vote for Lamont’s toll bill.

  4. Before we get all worked up about raising $750M, shouldn’t we come up with a plan first?

  5. Why is the Mirror not pointing out (from their very own article a few days ago) that part of our new ‘balanced’ budget cancels $170 million dollars earmarked for the transportation fund?

    “We need tolls” (says our “leadership”) but they don’t tell you it’s because they keep raiding the money we have put aside for transportation!

    We all know the Democrats will pass tolls eventually. It is up to us – EVERY SINGLE CT VOTER – to make sure they pay for it by losing their power in following elections. We MUST end the Democratic trifectas that have ruined this state for the last 9 years!

      1. You did NOT point it out in this article. Aresimowicz says, “those that are working very hard to disrupt that are putting a lot of misinformation out there.” That is an opinion you reinforce as fact by not presenting the full story.

        People trust our “leaders” in this state so poorly they had to vote for a ‘lock box’ to keep them from raiding transportation funds (which is why we have the “need” for tolls in the first place).

        Then, even after that ‘lock box’ is created, they still swipe another $170 million in funds meant for it to “balance” this new budget. None of these facts are worth mentioning in this article?

        Yes, Joe is right – there is a lot of misinformation out there.

      2. Mr. Verdad, we pointed it out in a previous article. It is difficult to tell the entire back-story in every article. Having said that, we plan to create a series of “primers” on a number of complex, on-going issues (e.g., budget, pensions, tolls) that would be available as “related” links. But, having said that, we are a very small staff. We depend on reader support to sustain and grow CT Mirror. If you would like to see us deepen our capacity to do things like this we welcome your monthly or one-time support at http://www.MirrorDonation.org.

  6. Posted earlier but as with all things in CT government, the issue is not “revenue”, it’s spending that is completely out of market even in comparison with other states:

    There has been no detailed explanation of project costs, comparison of CT’s costs to perform reasonably the same work as in other states and any notion of prioritization. If I understand the high level numbers – the STF revenue is about $1.7 billion annually. In addition, the Federal government adds $704 million annually. So, that’s $2.4 billion in funds. In addition, the state issues $800 million in transportation bonds annually. So, we’re now up to $3.2 billion. Finally, the State DOT spends (excluding the $66 million for the DMV) another $663 million annually.
    So, $3.8 billion/year for a state the size of Connecticut is not enough?
    Connecticut has 4.143 state and Federal Road miles according to the 2015 CT FastFacts study.
    By comparison North Carolina has 79,955 state maintained roads and an additional 1,270 Interstate (Federal) roads for a total of
    81,225 State and Federal miles. Their total 2019 transportation budget (including DMV expenses) is $5.0 billion.
    So, they have almost 20x the amount of maintained road miles but spend only 31.6% more than CT. Put another way, their costs are $61,557 per mile and CT are $917,210.
    That’s the problem. It’s not “revenue”.

    1. We have addressed this multiple times in past posts. There was an error in CT data that then was picked up by the federal government, foundations, analysts, advocacy groups, and individual readers.

      1. Please show the error in the math, then. Specifically, where are the CT spending figures wrong? The number of miles is not subject to much variance. How does NC take care of 30x the number of CT miles with a total $5 billion budget? Are their numbers wrong, too?

      2. As noted many times before, our position on this topic is that there appears to be misinformation in the Federal Highway Administration data, which is then the root of the assertion you and others are making about the cost of highway construction per mile.

        If one goes to the CT budget documents,
        (detailed breakdown in Governor’s budget for FY 2015 is at
        https://portal.ct.gov/-/media/OPM/Budget/2014_2015_Biennial_Budget/BudgetinDetail/Transportationpdf.pdf?la=en )
        The expenditures for highway administration can AT MOST be:
        $28,021,970 (for Highway/Bridge Engineering, Rights of Way, and Construction Services)
        $317,036 (for Highway and Bridge Research)
        $19,675,243 (for Transportation Administration)
        $7,774,661 (for Transportation Policy and Planning)
        $36,016,080 (for Agency Management — including rail and bus)
        for a grand total of $91,804,990.
        In addition, assuming that all of this money went for payroll (which is not true, but most of it did), add another 65% for fringe benefits, which brings the total up to $151,478,823. which is FAR FAR SHORT OF THE $403,072,000 used by the FHWA.
        Using the “state controlled highway mileage” figure cited by Reason (4,054 miles), the real number for transportation administration per state controlled highway mile is accordingly about $37,365.
        That still ranks CT between California and Rhode Island, but it’s not as high a the number many people cite.

      3. Your figures completely exclude the $1.5 billion in annual CT bonded debt and Federal FHA contributions. If your figures are correct, the state has revenue of $3.8 billion but only spends $151 million?

        How is that an argument for tolls? There’s a surplus of $3.6 billion according to your figures.

  7. Why add yet another new tax on the poor working stiffs in Connecticut? Why create a new monster? Just raise existing taxes. None of these new schemes the Democrats come up with solve anything so they just keep taxing new things because they aren’t willing to cut programs for their special interests that keep them in power and retain our one party system in Connecticut..

  8. They even take when we have a lock box. Ned. This is why we are against this. As someone who travels the entire north east US. I would be for tolls in this state if it wasn’t for the deciept we get from our elected officials. Any one know how much they took from the passport to parks program.

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