Toni Boucher and her former Republican colleagues are pushing a “solution” to Connecticut’s transportation funding woes with their go to strategy of borrowing more money.  Excessive borrowing used to be anathema to the Republican Party.  What happened?  Do Republicans, like Boucher, think they can hide the real cost of more borrowing?  Connecticut taxpayers know better. They will be paying increased taxes for decades to come with the Republican’s debt plan.

Let’s cut through the myths being touted by Ms. Boucher in her recent op-eds:

Boucher: “They only have to look at the ‘Prioritize Progress’ plan offered to them that does not include tolls or taxes. Instead, it puts transportation’s most essential projects at the top of the state’s bonding authority list and eliminates borrowing for pet projects to buy votes.”

The Connecticut GOP refuses to list which projects it would not fund.  So which projects, Ms Boucher, do you believe are “pet projects to buy votes?”  Keep in mind that Republicans will have to slash hundreds of millions of dollars in borrowing every year in order to provide their promised $700 million in annual borrowing for transportation infrastructure.

A 2018 version of “Prioritize Progress” let the cat out of the bag: Connecticut Republicans proposed to punish our public universities by slashing hundreds of millions of dollars of funding for them.  What other “pet projects” would suffer?  Municipal aid, small business investment, brownfield remediation, affordable housing and the list goes on.

Boucher: “What is the real reason for the monumental effort expended by Democrats to install tolls?”

Boucher knows the answer: Our transportation infrastructure ranks among the oldest, most deteriorated in the nation.  Our special transportation fund is close to insolvency, despite receiving more than a third of a billion dollars a year in sales tax revenues that were supposed to go for education and other purposes.  Without a major infusion of new revenues, we will soon be unable to fund needed repairs of our bridges and roads, let alone improve them.

Boucher: ” Taxpayers cannot continue to fund platinum healthcare and pension plans that no one in the private sector or municipal union members enjoy.”

The claim that state workers and public school teachers receive “platinum healthcare and pension plans” is utterly false.  The median pension of state workers is barely $38,000.  Connecticut’s pension benefits are below the national average.  The Urban Institute determined that Connecticut’s state teacher pension benefits rate an “F,” making our state one of just five states receiving a failing grade.

Boucher:  “Connecticut receives more federal funds than states with tolls, it could lose this funding with tolls.”

That’s a lie.  Back in 2015, a report produced by the engineering consulting company CDM Smith determined that there was zero chance of Connecticut either losing its federal highway funds, or being required to pay back the funds it had received.  Yet despite that report’s findings, and others, Boucher and her fellow Republicans continue to roll out that scare tactic and spread falsehoods.

Boucher:  “CT DOT administration costs are up to nine times the national average per mile, overhead expenses are outstripping revenues by 5 to 1.”

That claim is based on an absurd report put out by the right-wing Reason Foundation, a report that has been roundly debunked.

Boucher: “70 percent of tolls will be paid by Connecticut residents —a $500 million tax increase”

False.  Most estimates have Lamont’s plan raising 40 percent of tolls from out-of-state drivers. Using Boucher’s estimated revenue from tolls of $800 million, $320 million will come from out of state drivers every year. Plus, calling this a “tax” is disingenuous. Tolls are a user fee paid only by those who use our roads and are higher for heavy users, like 18-wheelers.

What Boucher fails to point out is that under her plan, Connecticut residents will be forced to pay 100 percent of the bill, plus interest, to repair and improve our transportation infrastructure.  What she doesn’t tell you is that she’s proposing drastic cuts in support for everything else government does in order to borrow for tolls.

What she also doesn’t tell you is that every other state on the East Coast, indeed every state east of the Mississippi except Vermont, Tennessee, and Alabama, collects tolls on their highways.  That includes states with Republican and Democratic governors and legislatures.

And, most importantly, she doesn’t tell you is that rising debt service puts extraordinary pressure on lawmakers to raise taxes or risk financial insolvency.  We are at the point where Connecticut cannot simply grow its way out of excessive borrowing. That’s why the “debt diet,” along with tolls, is so critical.

Here’s the bottom line: Adopt the GOP plan and borrow $700 million, with Connecticut taxpayers paying the entire cost, while decimating support for virtually everything else the state does. Or collect tolls, 40 percent of which would be paid by out-of-state cars and trucks.

Pay for everything ourselves, while slamming our towns and universities with massive cuts? Or collect tolls and get out-of-state residents to pay 40 percent to rebuild our transportation infrastructure?

Cut through the obfuscation, and the choice is simple.

Gail Berritt is a Westport attorney and Sean Goldrick is a Greenwich investment professional.

CTViewpoints welcomes rebuttal or opposing views to this and all its commentaries. Read our guidelines and submit your commentary here.

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40 Comments

  1. My Solution: Rescind Prevailing Wage Laws, Reverse State bailout of Hartford, Outsource DMV and CTFastrak, Wait until funding from Pres. Trump’s Transportation Bill is finalized.

    Now, ask yourself this question, “Which overall solution is best for taxpayers?”

  2. All we hear is taxes/tolls/taxes/tolls/fees/surcharges/ license fees/ …… I don’t want another penny of taxes till we hear about CUTS IN SPENDING.

    1. Hi TMDC, in the spirit of fostering a higher level of discourse, can you provide specific examples of cuts you would make in the state budget and how much savings those cuts would achieve?

      1. $295.66MM in overtime paid in 2018, which also inflates future pension payments. Eliminate overtime. Forbid diverting already existing sources of transportation devoted revenue from being diverted to other purposes (as they did with $185 million this year). That is almost $500MM.

        Ensure that Connecticut’s cost to maintain/repair highways is in line with other states and if not (as is the case), determine why.

      2. Eliminating overtime would require hiring more state employees and more dollars spent on healthcare and pensions so pick your poison. We need to staff 24 hour facilities, prisons, hospitals, state police, fire, and DOT unless you don’t want your highways plowed. Only a small percentage of state employees even qualify to get overtime and in the last concession package gave up 40% of overtime being calculated into pensions so there has in fact been cuts.

      3. Eliminate union rules which require two DOT employees in each snowplow. Privatize state run hospitals, DMV. Align state spending with revenue instead of raising “revenue” to keep up with out of market state employee compensation, benefits and pensions.

        You are aware that pensions were eliminated in the private sector 20 years ago? You are also aware that the private sector pays for all public sector spending?

      4. Love reading the Mirror!! Great question that you should ask politicians when you interview them!! I would have to have an accurate budget that I could understand in order to do that. The details in the media are not enough for me to make a detailed recommendation. But I do know that when you spend more than you take in that you have to make some changes to spending as well as raising funds. I will name a few that come to mind but cannot detail the exact savings. People get paid a lot of money to do that. They can help me.
        1. Cut some social services, especially Medicaid to people who are able to work. Cut welfare programs by enforcing rules. Cut unemployment by eliminating fraud. That would require a close examination of recipients for fraud.
        2. Freeze new hires and cut by attrition some State employees. Say a modest 5% in all departments.
        3. Negotiate benefit packages for all State workers to a single package , regardless of union affiliation, to get better prices and cut that cost.
        4. Stop investing in charter schools.
        5. Cut spending grants to cities for pie in the sky projects. Concentrate on infrastructure and public safety.
        6. Close State parks on a rotating basis to save money. Hold State harmless if trespassers are injured or injury others

  3. See my story below. It is out of PA. That state just raised the tolls on the turnpike 6%. PA has raised the toll on this road for 12 years in a row. More than 12 is not for the road. Its for debt and mass transit costs that most PA citizens don’t use. We can see right here what would come to CT. At some point CT gov’t is going to say goodbye to alot of great citizens when we cant afford it. To all these pro toll folks who keep wanting toll. Here is an idea for you. You are allowed to donate to the gov’t or you can buy bonda from the govt to help fund it. Then whatever you donate or bond. Double it so you pay for a citizen who would like to use there money for what they want.

  4. It’s a matter of trust with tolls. Does the citizenry trust government to administrate toll revenue responsibly? Against the practice of past and present conduct of diverting funds and the shocking lack of governmental transparency being demonstrated by Lamont administration the answer is no.

  5. But here is what you are not also telling the taxpayers. Borrowing will REMAIN THE SAME!!! It will just be for other things other than roads. The Republicans have been doing a bad job selling this message stating that the current bonding being used to pay for art projects, favorable loans and giveaways, and other pet projects will go to roads instead.

  6. Where do I find the data to support this number which is used constantly in the toll news,” 40 percent of tolls from out-of-state drivers” I find it hard to believe that CT commuters using our roads 261 working days a year would be the other 60%. Also, do you trust them to actually put a discount for CT drivers in place? I don’t.

      1. The 40.6% of revenue for OFS drivers makes a “grey” assumption – that is that the prosed pricing strategy of the study would be adhered to for most out of state drivers. However we already know that most states have reciprocal agreement with other states on the EZPASS system and that many (if not most) out of state drivers will use EZPASS. I know I do when I go to from CT to DC for business because the savings is significant. I do not see why we are using the 40% estimate when in reality the answer is “we do not know” but it will most likely far less than 40%. The “best case” scenario is 40% but that is not what politicians are saying, they are using that as the assumed number. Typical political nonsense.

    1. Dave, Good question and points.
      The 40% number is not to be trusted, it is a pro-toll advocate talking point repeatedly used. Lamont has claimed 50%, more than 50% and 40%. Bergstein claimed 50% The 2015 CDM Smith study done for Ct DOT put it at 25%. Their 2018 study report put it at approx. 40% because they factored in the possibility of discounts for Ct EZ Pass purchasers. There’s no assurance that will happen and it ignores Ct drivers who choose not to get EZPass.

      The claimed electronic driving tax amounts the advocates say will be charged also can’t be trusted. Those numbers are influenced by the 2018 CDM Smith report’s expense projections which are labelled in the Nov 2018 report as being in 2016 dollars – three years old already. Those numbers can’t be trusted because of inflation and potential cost overruns.

      CDM Smith has done studies under contract with our Ct DOT. We Ct taxpayers have paid millions for those. CDM Smith is also involved with lobbying states on highway toll proposals. They are not unbiased. Have a look at this – https://yankeeinstitute.org/2019/04/08/the-fitch-files-tolling-study-consultant-is-a-member-of-an-international-tolling-advocacy-group/

      Regardless of the actual percentage of out of state vehicles, the clear fact is most will be paid by you, me, and other Ct drivers on top of what we already pay for fuel and vehicle taxes. Don’t be fooled, electronic driving taxes would be a big tax upon other taxes.

      1. Hi Neil, we welcome your comments but please note that our guidelines require that comments be limited to 1,000 characters. We will not be able to approve comments that exceed that limit going forward.

      2. Also don’t forget that it is illegal to charge non-residents higher tolls than residents – anyone can buy a MA EZ-Pass and pay less than out of state EZ-Pass holders. So, those out of state residents commonly driving through CT will simply buy a CT EZ-Pass to reduce the toll amount they pay.

        Does the “40% out of state” figure include a percentage that pay reduced tolls?

      3. Thank you. My point was whether the projections took into account how many of out of state drivers would purchase CT issued EZ-Pass transponders to take advantage of the 30% (and potentially more for commuters) “in state” discount.

        The projections on page 62 indicate that out of state drivers would contribute 30% of the transactions but 40% of the revenue indicating that few or no out of state drivers would use CT issued EZ-Pass’s.

        I do not believe that is realistic as those who would travel through a heavily tolled state with any frequency would naturally avail themselves of every economic advantage and get the CT EZ-Pass

        That being said, it’s a terrible idea for a state that already has an extremely high cost of living, huge inefficiencies in current highway maintenance expenses and a history, as recent as this year, of using highway funds for other General Fund purposes. If it’s such a priority, one would think that would not happen.

  7. I would never trust CT govt to regulate or spend the money from tolls responsibly. It’s common knowledge that it’s obvious the collections won’t go to the roads / infrastructure because it hasn’t been a priority at all for the past two or more DECADES. CT residents: tolls NEVER go away and NEVER decrease in amount charged. It’s an option not worth going down. CT already gets 750 mil from the fed to upkeep the roads, and they want to gamble that with being able to charge more than that per year to increase “revenue”. Don’t buy into it – this isn’t about dem or rep

  8. No tolls, taxes or regulation until we see cuts in spending. Accomplish this by opening up some of these state Gov’t contracts to the private sector. Work is done in half the time for half the cost. Creates jobs and eliminates O/T. People will stay here- which is clearly not the current trend.

  9. Let’s see, the Republican suggestions are bad because we’ll pay years of interest on the bonds. Is that a different kind of interest than we’re paying for the 575M 30 year bailout of Hartford? Is it different when the payments stretching out for years are the state pension payments just extended by Lamont? Tolls are automatic taxes – the rates increase without public notice or discussion. It’s a lot harder when you raise taxes – that’s why Lamont spun this year’s taxing activity (no spending cuts) as “did not increase tax *rates*”. Just extended them to everything not previously taxed.

    1. Good points. Plus, if implemented tolls will be paid by Ct drivers for generations. Bonds are finite, they get paid off. Tolls are infinite, they rarely go away and usually go up. Yes, Lamont likes to say tax rates weren’t raised. That ignores what you mentioned and there were some rates that went up.

    2. Ok, lets bring this back a bit. Real problem here, out of control spending. People are too upset with that, like kicking the pension issue, down the road. Also, arrogant policies and solutions by ned and the gang. If they have over promised pension and other benefits, then, ned needs to address it. Not that simple!

  10. Wow, what a silly article. We are already borrowing the money! The issue is what we are spending it on. Republicans want to spent more of our (ALREADY APPROVED) bonds on infrastructure, continue to fund the STF with car / fuel taxes BUT ALSO take funds away from programs they say are less important than infrastructure. Democrats want NEW and MORE taxes to pay for roads and infrastructure and they think 40% of that will come from out of state – which is misleading because it assumes a certain pricing plan that can easily change. Who do you trust?

  11. I love this line: “…every state east of the Mississippi except Vermont, Tennessee, and Alabama, collects tolls on their highways.”

    How many of the roads are tolled in each state?
    How many of those tolled roads are Interstate Highways?
    How many of those roads were planned as toll roads BEFORE they became part of the Interstate system, and grandfathered as toll roads once becoming an Interstate Highway?

    How much do out-of-state drivers pay for the maintenance of I-91 in MA, I-91 & I-89 in VT, I-84 in NY, etc?

    I’m not as much opposed to tolling as I am to the way it is being proposed to be managed.

    How much bonding will be necessary to implement the proposed tolls, when will the first $1 of revenue be realized, and how long will it take to pay off the bonds floated to cover implementing tolls?

  12. This is an excellent rebuttal to Ms. Boucher’s claims, and I wish I had written it. The Republicans have spent months trying to disguise what their bonding shifts would slash, and they did a pretty good job of it. Thank you for digging out what the real effects would be.

    In another op-ed ex-Senator Boucher claimed that ‘a toll could become a $240 pay cut per month’. You couldn’t do this if you drove from the NY border to the RI border and back every business day of the month, entirely in peak hours.

    In the same op-ed she claimed that revenue estimates are based on toll rates 2 – 4 times as high as the highest rate in the country. This is blatantly false to the point that one has to question her good faith in making it. Here is a comparison of toll rates in various nearby states vs. proposed CT toll rates, in cents per mile

    Mass Pike EZ Pass (all day) 4.4
    Maine Tpke EZ Pass (all day) 5.8
    Main Tpke EZ Pass frequent user (all day) 2.9
    NY EZ pass (all day) 4.5
    NJ Tpke EZ Pass Peak 11.4
    NJ Tpke EZ Pass off-Peak 8.8
    CT EZ Pass Peak 5.5
    CT EZ Pass off-peak 4.4
    CT commuter Peak 4.4
    Ct commuter off-peak 3.5

    Again, in the same op-ed she shows that congestion pricing is regressive using the $46 peak-hour surcharge on a 10 mile strip of highway in Virginia. This is 460 TIMES the 10 additional cents for a 10 mile trip on any toll road in Connecticut. This almost seems like an attempt to mislead.

    Unlike ex-Senator Boucher, I think it’s good to have an honest civil dialogue on raising revenue to repair and update our infrastructure. What I don’t think is good is for the opposition to hide the effects of its proposals and exaggerate and distort the effects of tolls

    1. Hi PWS, we welcome your comments but please note that our guidelines require that comments be limited to 1,000 characters. We will not be able to approve comments that exceed that limit going forward.

    2. None of the Ct toll amounts you cite can be considered accurate. None of the states you refer to are valid comparisons with the extensive gantry plan proposed for Ct. No state in the USA has anything equal to the gantry density proposed for our small state. None.

      The claimed electronic driving tax amounts Lamont and the advocates say will be charged can’t be trusted. Those numbers are influenced by the 2018 CDM Smith report’s expense projections, labelled in the Nov 2018 report as being in 2016 dollars – three years old already. Those numbers can’t be trusted because of inflation and potential cost overruns

  13. “The average CT employee pension is $38,000/yr”. The maximum SS income is about $23,000/yr and there is also double dipping. Teachers pensions make SS look puny also. I don’t begrudge anybody a pension but there is a large inequality here.

  14. NO. NO. And NO.

    The only solution is to finally address the operational dysfunction and out of control corruption infecting all threes branches of our state “government.”

    Until this is first and properly addressed, nothing else will matter.

    Taxes and tolls – just throwing money into an already raging fire, hoping to put it out.

    1. Hi Peter, in the spirit of fostering a higher level of discourse, can you provide specific examples of the “operational dysfunction” and “out of control corruption” you see in “all three branches” of state government? Please make sure to include citations.

      1. Sure and where do we even begin? How about the issue of state employees double dipping pensions? We spend $2B a year just to fund DCF and our broken and corrupt family courts – which flagrantly violate the rights of parents to enrich the state from federal government tax dollars (see SSA Title IV-D.) What about handing former state legislators golden tickets by making judges so they can enjoy lifetime pensions for a year’s worth of “service”? What about state auditors asking why state agencies and the Judiciary are making unlawful hush money payments of up top $100K to departing state employees? What about jailing parents at taxpayer expense for the “crime” of not paying millionaire divorce attorneys? All of this is ignored and swept under the rug – yet costs our state and its taxpayer.s hundreds of millions of dollars. Outrageous. CT suffers the same thing impacting states NJ and IL, where corruption is also rampant.

  15. Tolls are the fairest way to fund our transportation infrastructure. This article does a good job debunking the anti-toll arguments. The anti-toll faction wants you to believe that every road is a toll road. That is not true. The toll roads are just the 3 most heavily used highways in the state, so this toll is not a tax; it is a user fee. The anti-toll faction has a hatred of government except when they want to use it to punish people not like them. As Mark Twain said, no amount of facts or evidence will convince an idiot. That includes anti-government zealots like the anti-toll faction.

    1. Hi Larkspur, thanks for submitting a comment. Please note in our comment section policy that commenters are asked to avoid name-calling, which includes your use of the word “idiot.” This rule is especially important, perhaps, when noting that Mark Twain never made the statement you attributed to him. The closest you might find is a dubiously attributed quote, “Never argue with an idiot,” which is actually derived from Proverbs 26:4. It is also important to note, in the spirit of facts and evidence, that the governor’s proposal calls for tolling state Route 15 in addition to the three major interstates. (Source: https://ctmirror.org/2019/04/10/lamont-gop-make-clear-tolls-are-a-fault-line/)

    2. We already pay a user fee, its called a gas tax that doesnt get used for its intended puposes

    3. Larkspur, You are incorrect and that is easily checked. Lamont’s proposal changed from TEN highways and parkways in Ct to FOUR, not the three you claim. The proposed TEN remain a possibility as do the earlier proposals for 112, 82, or 53 driving TAX gantries in our small state.

      You are also wrong on this – it is a TAX. It is an electronic driving TAX. The Federal judge in the R.I. trucks-only case wrote in his decision “It is not a toll, it is not a user fee, it is a tax.” That’s pretty darn clear that even a driving TAX advocate ought to be able to admit it. Here in Ct, it isn’t a “user fee” because the advocates want to collect $$ for driving on Ct highways and parkways and use some of it for trains, buses, and other “transportation.” https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/95bd296e0de300b651f84b61a36f383d1465fbe2e8aec602f0cddab21dc5c1b2.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/119de0f00aa17c4dd8545b10db979444bc17072387061ce5cc835801532ad522.png

      1. Thank you. Yes, the CDM Smith study report with the 82 gantry plan was released after Lamont was elected but before he was sworn in to begin his Governorship. I should not have written it as “Lamont’s proposal…TEN highways and parkways in Ct…” That plan, or even the earlier 112 gantry plan, remain available. As I recall, the completed study with the 82 gantry plan was withheld from public release until after the election and with a FOIA filing that pressured the former DOT Commissioner to release it.

  16. The issue here is that many of us do not trust the Connecticut government to repair our infrastructure if tolls are instituted. As shown by this link (https://yankeeinstitute.org/2018/08/27/connecticut-legislature-short-changed-transportation-funding-by-650-million-since-2011/), huge sums from our gas tax (one of the highest in the country), have been diverted to the general fund.

    Perhaps a portion of toll money would be used for infrastructure repair, but it would just be a matter of time until our political class started diverting money from the toll revenue to the general fund. The lock box we voted for in 2018 would be cracked open, probably by judicial fiat. Furthermore, unlike taxes, faceless bureaucracies would simply jack up the toll prices funding even more bureaucratic sinecures with fat pensions and Cadillac health insurance.

    Before tolls are instituted, the least that could be done is spend all of the gas tax revenue on infrastructure repair so a level of trust could be built.

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