Gov. Ned Lamont was upbeat Thursday after privately briefing the Senate Republican minority on CT2030, a 10-year, $20 billion transportation plan loaded with Metro-North and I-95 improvements that Democrats hope at least some downstate Republicans and their commuter constituents will find enticing.
Republicans praised the presentation as thoughtful, detailed and well-conceived, but they offered no promise of support for new transportation revenue, whether from the tolls on 14 highway bridges that Lamont is now proposing or any other source.
“They gave us a fair hearing,” Lamont said. As for the chances of GOP support, the Democratic governor smiled and replied, “Your guess is as good as mine.”
The private briefing was perhaps the last stop for the administration before it goes public with a revamped presentation that has won strong reviews for style and substance, a sharp departure from the immediate and vehement opposition that greeted Lamont’s initial tolls-heavy effort in February.
“It was a very worthy presentation,” said Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven.
But Fasano said he and his caucus still have questions about financial complexities of the plan, most of which cannot be answered until it is publicly released and can be vetted by the legislature’s non-partisan Office of Fiscal Analysis. Crucial questions for him are: How much new revenue is necessary? Can a 10-year plan be stretched to 15?
“We went through our priorities. …We went through rail, bridge, road… They know in detail what our strategy is now through 2030.” — Gov. Ned Lamont
“Maybe there is a way of looking at this a little bit differently, and maybe we don’t get to do everything we want to do, but we can do everything we need to do,” Fasano said. “Maybe that’s the issue, the wants versus need. I don’t know, but we have to go through that.”
Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, who has viewed a straight party-line vote for highway tolls as a threat to Democratic control of the Senate, said the governor has given most legislators enough to assess the impact on their districts. Lawmakers say there are significant projects in every Senate district.
“I think we will have to decide on what the realities in their own districts are, as to whether or not this is something they can support, both in terms of policy and politics,” Looney said.
Democrats hold a 22-14 majority in the Senate. Lamont has spent significant time courting Fasano, hoping that a new plan minimizing tolls, maximizing federal assistance and being open to public-private partnerships could draw at least a small measure of bipartisan support.
The new plan is Lamont’s second effort to make the case for finding a way to finance a growing backlog of repairs to an aging infrastructure, save the state’s Special Transportation Fund from insolvency and shave minutes off highway and railroad commutes. The first was a disaster, one that cast a shadow over his young administration.
On a three-day holiday weekend in February, Lamont published an op-ed piece in which he proposed a comprehensive system of tolls on the Merritt Parkway and Interstates 84, 91 and 95. It focused on the need for new revenue — lots of it — and failed to make the case for what the money would buy.
On Thursday, the Republican senators were shown the draft of a presentation that soon will go on a web site. It emphasizes what the improvements would mean to Connecticut commuters, while Lamont’s first effort centered on what it would cost them.
Fasano said it would make about $4 billion in rail improvements, including new and faster Metro-North trains that would shorten commutes and wifi coverage that would make the rides more productive. The plan includes improved Metro-North service on the Waterbury line, giving the Naugatuck Valley a transfer-free ride into New York.
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said the new plan should make at least some Fairfield County Republicans reconsider their no-tolls positions, given that thousands of their Metro-North commuting constituents will get long-overdue improvements in service without tax increases or widespread highway tolls.
“If you’re a legislator anywhere south of Bridgeport and you vote against it, I wouldn’t run for re-election,” Ritter said.
The old plan was focused on raising $800 million in annual revenue from more than 50 tolls on the Merritt Parkway and Interstates 84, 91 and 95. In the new version, tolls are minimized, and their revenue is linked to specific reconstruction projects.
“The governor is not compromising on the overarching goals and objectives for what he is trying to achieve, which is fundamentally transforming the state’s infrastructure,” said Ryan Drajewicz, the governor’s chief of staff. “He is not compromising on that vision, but he is compromising on the way to achieve it.”
The new plan comes after months of consultation with federal transportation officials about infrastructure financing that is available at below-market rates, but requires a dedicated revenue source for repayment. It outlines projects, some which would eliminate highway bottlenecks, and their impact on commutes.
“We went through the financials,” Lamont said. “We went through our priorities. We went through how we pay for things. We went through rail, bridge, road. We went through checkpoints. They know in detail what our strategy is now through 2030.”