Gov. Ned Lamont speaks to reporters following Wednesday’s Bond Commission meeting. Behind him are DOT Commissioner Joseph Giulietti and OPM Secretary Melissa McCaw. Mark Pazniokas / CT Mirror
Gov. Ned Lamont speaks to reporters following Wednesday’s Bond Commission meeting. Behind him are DOT Commissioner Joseph Giulietti and OPM Secretary Melissa McCaw. Mark Pazniokas / CT Mirror

Gov. Ned Lamont threatened Wednesday to clamp down on state borrowing if legislators can’t agree in special session this summer on a plan to toll Connecticut’s major highways.

The governor, who made his comments during and after the State Bond Commission meeting, also said he’d consider shifting more borrowing capacity away from non-transportation initiatives to support Connecticut’s highways, bridges and rail lines.

“If that’s the case, we’re going to have to be very selective about what we do going forward,” Lamont said during the meeting.

“We cannot afford to do a lot of these other items if we put all that money into transportation,” he added afterward.

Lamont, who pledged during the campaign to support tolling only on large trucks, reversed himself in February and has since pressed for tolls on all vehicles to repair Connecticut’s aging, overcrowded infrastructure.

Lawmakers declined to adopt any long-term financing plan for transportation work during the regular session, which adjourned on June 5. But they must return to the Capitol later this summer to adopt the annual bond package. And Lamont has asked them to reconsider tolls, saying the status quo can’t continue.

Connecticut will borrow $850 million this coming fiscal year — $75 million more than it averaged over the last two years — for transportation repairs. This borrowing, which is repaid with gas taxes and other revenues from the budget’s Special Transportation Fund, is paired with about $700 million per year in federal transportation grants.

But state and federal funding totaling roughly $1.5 billion per year “is not enough to keep us in a state of good repair,” Lamont said.

Department of Transportation Commissioner Joseph Giulietti has testified Connecticut needs to spend between $2 billion and $2.5 billion per year if it wants to improve the condition of its infrastructure and make key strategic upgrades like replacing the elevated section of Interstate 84 in Hartford of widening I-95 in Fairfield County.

Lawmakers debated two options this spring to increase capital spending this year, but settled on neither.

Electronic tolling on I-84, I-91, I-95 and the Merritt Parkway is projected to raise $600 million to $800 million per year. Lamont backs this option, estimating out-of-state motorists would contribute as much as 40 percent of the revenue, because it  would enable the state to avoid more borrowing.

Republicans countered with “Prioritize Progress,” which avoids tolls and instead shifts $700 million-to-$750 million per year in borrowing from school construction, economic development and other non-transportation programs and makes it available for highway, bridge and rail work.

Political retaliation for opposing tolls?

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby (file photo)

Some questioned Wednesday whether Lamont — who chairs the bond commission — retaliated politically against the GOP for their anti-toll stand.

The commission approved a total of $1.9 million in financing for upgrades to fire training schools in Democratic legislators’ districts in Torrington and Windham. 

But a similar request for help for the Valley Fire School in Beacon Falls — which trains firefighters in the Naugatuck Valley — was left off the agenda.

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, a staunch opponent of tolls who pushed for aid for the Valley Fire School, said Lamont and his running mate, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, pledged last fall during a visit to her district to support upgrades to the school.

“They were very passionate and it was very heartfelt,” Klarides said, adding that the Democratic team pledged their support for the school repeatedly. “Now he’s trying to threaten people and say ‘If you don’t do tolls that I want, schools like this aren’t going to get funded.’ People are sick and tired of politicians saying one thing during their elections and then conveniently forgetting what they said.”

When Rep. Chris Davis of Ellington, one of just two Republicans on the 10-member bond commission, asked whether the Naugatuck Valley school would be funded in the future, Lamont’s deputy commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services, Noel Petra, said ‘We’re evaluating our options at this point.”

Lamont said afterward there was no political retribution. But his answer to Davis during the meeting was: “I’ll get back to you, I think, by the end of the special session to tell you what appetite and what capacity we have to do projects like that.”

The governor added afterward that even if legislators don’t support tolls, he isn’t ready to support the GOP’s Prioritize Progress plan and shift $750 million in borrowing away from school construction, economic development and other non-transportation programs to support highway, bridge and rail projects.

But he said he would be willing to compromise and support a smaller shift if was part of a deal that also included approval of electronic tolling.

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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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9 Comments

  1. Borrow some money to get Dan Malloy’s name off the sign on the Merritt Parkway at the NY border!
    Maybe Ned is trying to hide the fact that he is now in charge?
    Dan had the sign changed on day one…

  2. Wow, this is a Malloy move. It is obvious political retribution against Klarides for her strong advocacy against polls. I could see if this were a pet project like a park, water fountain, playing field etc but this is not. A fire school is a community investment because of the function it serves and benefits to a large group of citizens. Fire training is not the best thing to cancel when there are so many other lower priorities to cut. Malloy used to do stupid stuff like this too, and it got him nowhere fast, let’s hope Democrats call him on it.

  3. Ned is now threatening to hold his breath until tolls are approved. He doesn’t have a path to tolls and is trying to throw incentive at getting that toll revenue that will end up funding pension deficits.

  4. Thank you Ned. Stay true to the clamp down on borrowing. We need to stop spending money. But I don’t want your tolls.

  5. “We cannot afford to do a lot of these other items if we put all that money into transportation,” he added afterward.
    .
    I thought tolls were proposed FOR the infrastructure!

  6. Clamping down on borrowing is a good thing. Clamping Down On tolls and borrowing is even better.

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