Metro-North Train 1567 enters Stamford southbound for New York City.
File photo of Gov. Ned Lamont and his budget adviser, Melissa McCaw. Both met with the Senate Republicans. mark pazniokas / ctmirror.org

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.

Senate GOP Leader Len Fasano is in talks with Lamont. Rep. Themis Klarides, his House counterpart, is keeping her distance.

“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.”

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.

Join the Conversation

15 Comments

  1. A slick power point presentation with smoke screen projections are easily shown through. It’s a matter of trust, pure and simple…

  2. So basically, I have to pay car taxes, gas tax, car sales tax, registration fees and tolls and the people in Fairfield get subsidized train rides and a faster trip to New York. Thanks for supporting the working man Ned and being fair about costs.

  3. “Requires a dedicated revenue source” – the Lamont and the D’s will translate this to mean that tolls are required to qualify for the low rate financing but that would be a lie. The TIFIA financing as explained on the US DOT website, “The USDOT interprets ‘dedicated revenue sources’ to include such levies as tolls, user fees, special assessments, tax increment financing, and any portion of a tax or fee that produces revenues that are pledged for the purpose of retiring debt on the project (emphasis added)”. If history holds true that won’t stop Lamont from trying to hoodwink the public. “You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but not all of the people all of the time” – Lincoln
    I would suggest that the dedicated revenue source be the sales tax from auto sales that Lamont raided in the current budget. The pledging of that revenue stream would be a real lockbox that the Hartford politicians won’t be able to break into without being carted off to federal prison.
    One other thought: why are tolls on cars linked to infrastructure spending on trains?

    1. Excellent. Good work with the research about what “a dedicated revenue source” means.
      The answer to your question about tolls on highways providing $$ for the SW Ct train riders is the Manhattan, NYC, and train orientation of Lamont his DOT Commish (the career rail guy, Giuelitti), and their lower Fairfield Cty NYC workers. There is NO WAY putting driving TAXES on our highways or bridges is a “user fee” when the $$ will go to trains. Lamont & Giuelitti are on record saying that’s what they want. Lamont: “Tolls will free up money for trains.” Giuelitti: “Get me tolls and I’ll get new rail cars.”

    2. Well said, we have plenty of current revenue sources that can be used to help with the federal loan requirements. I also suggest cutting all state departments budgets by 10% over the next few years reinventing in infrastructure and middle class tax cuts.

  4. Mr. Ritter’s threats,aside, anyone who votes FOR tolls should not run for re-election.
    There has never been a revenue problem in this state. We have spending problems.
    Malloy’s two historic income tax increases kind of defines the issue.
    Tolls are just another tax and as property values decline there will be more taxes to come on top of the tolls.

  5. Mr. Ritter’s threats,aside, anyone who votes FOR tolls should not run for re-election.
    There has never been a revenue problem in this state. We have spending problems.
    Malloy’s two historic income tax increases kind of defines the issue.
    Tolls are just another tax and as property values decline there will be more taxes to come on top of the tolls.

  6. How about more of a shared costs. Cars will get tolls. What do train riders get. I hope the ticket price goes up on them too. Again make it more of shared costs. Again the rest of the state will pay for Fairfield riders who can afford the cost. Also put a state tax on owning an electric car. Average the costs based on average gas use and send the bill. No free rides

  7. House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said…without tax increases…”
    Not true – tolls are taxes. That’s a fact and was clearly stated by the Federal judge in his decision on the R.I. trucks-only lawsuit decision.

  8. If toll revenues are required to begin the projects, they’ll be completed in10 to 15 years.
    As the Mirror has reported, projects are expected to take 5 to 10 years. I don’t know how much more it would cost to complete the projects sooner, if it can be done.
    And, as someone recorded below, the federal government does not require tolls to provide low-interest loans.
    This is not a transportation discussion; it’s a revenue discussion.

      1. Watching Len on the Sunday talk shows have me the impression he remains very opposed to tolls. He’s giving Lamont the courtesy of listening to his presentation and that is it…

  9. Since this article talks so much about metro north so much and Lamont making his pitch for trains. Does this now prove its not a USER FEE and it is a TAX.

    1. It’s been an electronic driving TAX all along. It’s been about $$ for trains to & from Manhattan all along. Lamont and his allies want us to believe it’s a “user fee” when they want us to pay a new TAX for driving on Ct highways so money can go to trains. That’s not a user fee. That’s deceptive propaganda.

Leave a comment