Gov. Ned Lamont mark Pazniokas / ctmirror.org
Gov. Ned Lamont talking to reporters Monday. mark Pazniokas / ctmirror.org

Gov. Ned Lamont told reporters Monday he is getting “final feedback” this week from legislative leaders before releasing his second try at a transportation infrastructure plan, then he challenged House Republican skeptics to reconsider their opposition to tolls or any other form of new transportation revenue.

The Lamont administration has been engaged in a give-and-take with Senate Republicans over what is expected to be a 10-year, $20 billion plan, but House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, has doubled down on her caucus’s opposition to any tolls and, possibly, any new revenue sources.

“It’s going to take a profile in courage,” Lamont said, when asked about the chances of getting House GOP support.

“So, his definition of a profile in courage is if somebody agrees with him?” Klarides replied.

Lamont has greatly scaled back his original plan, which called for a comprehensive system of electronic highway tolls on the Merritt Parkway and Interstates 84, 91 and 95 that he predicted could raise about $800 million annually. Without new revenue, Lamont said, the state’s special transportation fund is projected to run in the red in the next four years.

“It’s going to take a profile in courage.”

Gov. Ned Lamont 

The administration’s revised plan calls for tolls only on select bridges, with a relatively modest  charge for passenger vehicles and a premium for trucks, according to officials who have been briefed.

Lamont said he expected to have “some pretty good news by the end of the week,” but administration officials have taken to heart the advice of House Democrats to avoid releasing the plan on a Friday. Supporters say the plan should be released early in the work week, with a strategy for promoting it. 

The original plan was presented to the public in an op-ed piece published on a holiday weekend in February. In recent weeks, Lamont and his staff have been briefing legislators and stakeholders outside government.

“So, his definition of a profile in courage is if somebody agrees with him?”

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides

“The governor has done a good job reaching out to external validators,” said Rep. Roland J. Lemar, D-New Haven, the co-chair of the Transportation Committee. “He is taking his lumps by going to them, hearing their thoughts on why it failed last time.”

Ryan Drajewicz, the governor’s chief of staff, said the rollout this time will be deliberate.

“This will be done in close and careful collaboration with the legislative leadership and chairs” of the relevant committees, Drajewicz said, adding, “And preferably with both sides of the aisle.”

Klarides was briefed by the administration last week on a plan that outlines projects necessary to keep the state’s highway and transit system in a state of good repair, as well as making enhancements to improve commuting times by speeding rail and eliminating highway bottlenecks. It would limit tolls and rely in part on low-cost financing from the federal government.

 “We have been open-minded to the other parts, the non-tolls parts,” Klarides said.

Lamont chatted with Don Shubert, the head of a construction trade group that is lobbying for an infrastructure plan, before talking to reporters. mark Pazniokas / ctmirror.org

But the administration has not made the case, at least in Klarides’ view, that new revenue is necessary to keep the special transportation fund solvent, nor does she agree that everything on Lamont’s priority list must be tackled immediately.

Financed largely by fuel taxes, fees and sales taxes, the fund pays for operational costs at the Department of Transportation, the Department of Motor Vehicles and debt service on transportation infrastructure.

In a telephone interview, Klarides initially ruled out any new transportation revenue, then reconsidered and said, “I shouldn’t say that. We have to dig very deep in this process.”

Klarides suggested the governor’s plan is too ambitious.

“Let’s put a reasonable package of projects together,” Klarides said. “Let’s just get real for a change. Let’s stop living in a fantasy world, where you do everything at once.”

When Lamont proposed his original tolls plan, Republicans countered with a call to redirect about $700 million of the state’s current general-obligation bonds for transportation, an approach that Lamont says would rob other needs of necessary funding and fail to provide a stable source of revenue.

The Lamont administration is seeking low-cost federal financing that requires a dedicated source of repayment, and the governor said Klarides and others must recognize that tolls are the only way to guarantee that out-of-state drivers who traverse Connecticut highways will pay for their upkeep.

Lamont said without new revenue sources, Connecticut would have to use bonding — borrowed money — to pay the debt service on the federal loans, “putting it on the credit card of the next generation.”

“If that’s the only deal she’ll consider, I’d like to think a couple of other Republicans may stand up and challenge that and say, ‘We have a better plan, a plan where out-of-staters pay for 40 percent of it, a plan that is limited, but a plan that fixes our transportation system and fixes our special transportation fund, which goes under water in the next four of five years,’ ” Lamont said.

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, met a week ago with the governor and other administration officials to talk about the scope of what Lamont would like to do, as well as means of financing. He posed a series of issues and concerns, and the administration has been responding.

“You have to appreciate the fact he is trying his best to sort out some of the issues,” Fasano said.

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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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25 Comments

  1. There are only two times Connecticut Democrats look for Republican help:
    1) When they don’t think they can get their full Democrat legislative majority to pass something
    2) When the desired outcome is something the voters in CT don’t really want.

    This may be both.

  2. Respectfully governor, a profile in courage would have been campaigning on truck AND car tolls and letting the overtaxed citizenry make a clear choice at the ballot box.
    The Special Transportation Fund is being starved to death because you’re diverting millions of dollars into the General Fund for pensions.
    There is no trust that Connecticut Democratic government will handled toll revenue properly.

  3. Alternatively, “Profiles in Courage” may include:

    1. Stripping the Transportation Fund of operating costs like the DMV department.
    2. Stopping the practice of raiding the transportation fund or diverting funds intended for it to the tune of $100’s of millions.
    3. Using the tolls issue as a front to pay for escalating and underfunded state union employee retirements and retirement healthcare benefits.

  4. If Gov Lamont were truly brave and honest he would reverse the politically motivated decisions of the last 30 years that have destroyed our state. Based on where he decides to go with this, will reveal his true character.

    1. Easy Ralphie. End binding arbitration and collective bargaining for state employees and we’re off and running.

  5. So the second highest taxed state in the country doesn’t have enough revenue and is in enormous debt. How did we get here? Irresponsible government is the answer. Now they want more of our money and promise to use it responsibly? How many six figure pensions aren’t properly funded? How is our outmigration issue? Are businesses moving in or moving out? Keep voting for these fools and this state will never be able to recover.
    I love how the governor keeps talking about out of state drivers who he says will fund a large portion of this. An out of state driver passes through that toll occasionally while the daily commuter gets taxed daily just for driving to work. He is simply against the middle class and his approval rating shows it.

  6. We do not have a transportation problem, we have a spending problem. Tolls are the most expensive, most opportunistic for corruption and will not be tolerated by CT taxpayers who see right through this charade. Republicans will do well to stand firm against this insanity. The” Profiles in Courage” comment, is more of the arrogance we have come to expect.

  7. Lamont is an example of a profile in spinelessness. True courage would be cutting back the outrageous salary and benefits package to state employees. Here’s an easy start: retirees go on Medicare when they reach 65 instead of having us all pay for their rich health insurance, including to their surviving spouses.

    1. You must know that Lamont cannot do this. It was all negotiated for another 10 years by Malloy. State employees just got a 3.5 percent raise this year and will get another 3.5 percent next year. All the OT is still added to the pension calculations. With the state nearly broke they still allowed OT to go towards pensions. Go look at the salaries in the State of CT Comptrollers website. Connecticut is paying Social workers 100K a year in OT alone on top of base salary.

    2. State employee retirees – do – go on Medicare at age 65. The state adds a Medicare Plus package partly funded by the federal government.

  8. Simply lets stop this madness !put it to a vote next November.All in Faver of
    tolls vote yea all oppose vote no.then abide by the will of the people

  9. “Profile in Courage”? Try having the courage to follow the clearly expressed will of Ct. citizens, not the desires of those who will profit from implementing your bad idea…like Don Schubert and the companies and unions he represents. That’s just one example.

  10. So the problem with the last plan was all in the way it was rolled out… ie… Your to stupid to understand what we are trying to do!

  11. A “Profile in Courage” would be a politician who kept his campaign promises. Governor Lamont stated he favor tolls only on incoming trucks. Now he wants tolls. He should keep his word and not ask other politicians to become enablers in his misleading the public.

  12. I wished the Republicans would refute that gaslighted number of 40% of drivers are from out of state. I know, because I drive upwards of 800 miles per week in southern and western Ct a week. At best it’s half that during the majority of the week with exceptions for holiday travel. In essence, 100% of the residents will be paying 80% of the toll tax.

  13. Courage is our military in active duty and their MWDs, our veterans and their spouses who risked their lives for this country.

    Voting for tolls has nothing to do with courage, but voting against them has everything to do with COMPETENCE.

  14. When finances get as out-of-whack as our state’s balance sheet is from decades of underfunding of state employee pension liabilities, there is clearly a system of economically perverse incentives at work. The question is whether enough has been done to remove them from current tax, budget and employee benefit policies so that our grandchildren have a fighting chance of fiscal health. That’s right, I said grandchildren, we’ve already mortgaged our children to the hilt.

    1. The only chance your grandchildren have to escape that burden is to have their parents move out of CT.

  15. Profiles of courage. Adding a tax or user fee to the citizens of CT is NOT courage. Its what our gov’t does to us every year. Thats not a hard one. Examples of real courage by CT gov’t would be

    1 get the unions to reopen sbeac agreement and take 20% cuts penions salaries to all. Also make them pay 20% more out of there bloated checks to pay more for the Cadillac health care the tax payers pay for

    2 cut every depts budget by 5% across the board

    3 cap pensions and top dollar salaries to 80k for all state employees

    4 cut the income tax down to 5% for all tax payers.

    5 make teachers and state employees pay there fair share into your new paid leave act. If we have pay. So should they. We all work.

    6 take back the 550 million the state tax payers are footing the Hartford bail out. Most of us didn’t make these poor decisions

    There are some ideas for you. Just get us 2 of them and then we can consider your new pkg

    1. You have some ideas here, but the incentives are more structural than this. For example, defined benefit plans allowed towns to defer compensation for, say, teachers out to later years, move them out of their own municipality and into the taxing pool of the state. Think about the incentive that this sets up.

      Of course one can argue municipality X is shouldering the burden for municipality Y which is shouldering the burden for city Z which is shouldering the burden for municipality X and dems vs repubs and blah blah blah. But we’re still left a situation that feeds the unfunded liability beast. And no pol wants to come home and talk about how this “competitive advantage” for the town is part of the problem because no one wants to own it.

      About three years ago, the Malloy administration wanted to package up a portion of these unfunded teacher pension liabilities and hand them back to the municipalities that created them. The municipalities, already saddled with high state and municipal taxes, naturally said “No way!” So no matter what we tax or don’t tax, toll or don’t toll, or whomever we elect, the fact is that perverse incentives that remain in place will keep Connecticut uncompetitive unless we agree to change them or agree to keep them in place and fund them as we go.

      1. Hi Laurie, 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. I’d also include trimming the states 58 agencies and commissions. Lotta redundancy including staff.

  16. Though it might not help in the coming Trump-hate election, opposition to tolls is one of the best things Republicans have going for them. Making a deal wouldn’t be politically astute.
    Especially because everyone knows that any limitations on tolls could be removed at any time. And at least some people know that any projects begun on the basis of toll revenues wouldn’t be completed for the 5 years before tolls begin and then 5-10 years after that to do the work.
    This is about a new revenue stream, not transportation.

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