The governor presented details of his trucks-only tolling plan.
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter. keith m. phaneuf / ctmirror.org

The House Democratic majority offered a transportation financing plan Tuesday that recycles a campaign proposal made and abandoned by Gov. Ned Lamont: Trucks-only tolls to be charged at a dozen bridges on interstate highways in Connecticut.

The concept was quickly welcomed by Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, whose unyielding opposition effectively killed Lamont’s broader proposal of charging tolls on all motor vehicles at 14 tolling gantries.

“Some members of our caucus would favor that,” Looney said, saying it keeps faith with a campaign promise Lamont made last year. “The original plan he ran on — the trucks-only — is the only voter-tested proposal that is out there.”

Lamont praised the House Democrats for reviving an approach that shares two of his goals: Finding a dedicated revenue source for his 10-year infrastructure plan, CT2030, that taps out-of-state drivers and can leverage low-cost federal financing.

“The original plan he ran on — the trucks-only — is the only voter-tested proposal that is out there.”

Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney

“I am appreciative of House Democrats’ thoughtful contribution to the discussion about Connecticut’s economic future and the critical need for investment in our transportation system,” Lamont said. “A guiding principle of CT2030 is a dedicated revenue stream, which in large part comes from out-of-state drivers.”

House Speaker Joseph Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, and House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, say their plan would raise between $100 million and $150 million annually, less than half the $320 million Lamont wanted to raise from tolls on cars and trucks to finance CT2030.

Last week, the Senate Republican minority proposed using nearly two-thirds of the state’s budget reserves to pay down pension liabilities, producing an annual savings of $130 million that could be spent on transportation. Another $100 million would come from cutting annual borrowing for things such as capital spending on local schools and public universities.

Ritter said House Democrats saw using $1.5 billion of the $2.5 billion budget reserves as too risky, but a more conservative version of the GOP plan might be combined with trucks-only tolls or other alternatives.

Any plan with tolls most likely would end hopes of significant bipartisan support.

“I personally do not support tolls on trucks,” said Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven. “I have always feared that tolls on trucks is the first step to eventually tolling cars, which is a tax increase people do not support. Senate Republicans have offered a comprehensive transportation plan with no tolls and no tax increases. We still believe that is the best way forward for our state.”

“I have always feared that tolls on trucks is the first step to eventually tolling cars, which is a tax increase people do not support.”

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano

Patrick Sasser, a leader of No Tolls CT, said Connecticut should not trust Lamont to stick to a trucks-only plan after already reneging on that campaign promise.

“With the flip of the switch, the average Connecticut driver could start having to pay tolls. The legislature and the governor have done nothing to rebuild trust with the people, and this latest proposal has all the makings of another broken promise,” Sasser said. “There have been enough toll proposals.”

An estimated 1,500 protestors gathered at the Capitol in May to rally against tolls.

Ritter anticipated that kind of skepticism in his statement outlining the plan, saying it was intellectually disingenuous to view trucks-only tolls as the first step on “a slippery slope” or the “camel getting his nose under the tent.”

“I’m sick of people talking about camels and their noses and proverbial tents, or slippery slopes. Tolling trucks has nothing to do with tolling cars — this is a completely separate issue,” Ritter said. “There is no tent. There is no slope. I want elected officials to answer this question: Is tolling trucks a good idea or a bad idea — period.”

Lamont wants to meet next week with legislative leaders to talk about how to proceed. He expects all four caucuses to offer alternatives, not just the Senate GOP and House Democrats.

“With the flip of the switch, the average Connecticut driver could start having to pay tolls. The legislature and the governor have done nothing to rebuild trust with the people, and this latest proposal has all the makings of another broken promise.”

Patrick Sasser
No Tolls CT

After a tumultuous and frustrating 10 months seeking support for how to finance a major transportation infrastructure plan, the governor can claim one small victory: All four legislative caucuses are on record conceding that transportation is a priority that must be addressed now.

Aresimowicz said the state must act immediately to exploit federal financing, as well as restore the Special Transportation Fund to solvency.

“Time is of the essence. It would be fiscal mismanagement to miss this opportunity to secure federal funds at these incredibly low rates – rates change every day,” Aresimowicz said.

“I’m sick of people talking about camels and their noses and proverbial tents, or slippery slopes. Tolling trucks has nothing to do with tolling cars — this is a completely separate issue.”

House Majority Leader Matt Ritter

Rhode Island’s trucks-only tolls is being challenged in court, but no judge has blocked the collection of tolls while the case is being litigated.

“The feds have been very, very clear: You could not toll trucks only on our interstate highway system,” Ritter told reporters late Tuesday afternoon. “There is an exception, which Rhode Island does and other states do, which is just bridges.”

The House Democratic proposal would be more expensive for trucks than Lamont’s most recent plan to toll trucks and cars. It would mirror the tolls charged trucks in New York, where the EZ-pass rates range from $11.06 for a two-axle truck to $84,52 for a seven-axle vehicle.

The rationale for trucks-only tolls is the greater damage they cause to the highways, Ritter said. “Trucks do 80 percent of the damage, and they pay nothing in Connecticut,” Ritter said. “That has to change.”

It is a figure the trucking industry disputes.

“The claim that trucks do 80 percent of the damage to our roads and bridges is a made up number,” said Joe Sculley of the Motor Transport Association of Connectiuct. “There is no data to support that statement. In fact, the Federal Bridge Formula ensures that a truck cannot inherently damage a road or a bridge. In short, the bridge formula requires that a truck’s gross weight is distributed over a certain number of axles, which must be appropriately spaced, over a specified length of the truck or tractor-trailer combination.”

The two bridges that appear on Lamont’s plan but are missing from the House Democratic proposal are located on the Merritt Parkway, where truck traffic is prohibited, and Route 9 in Middletown.

Ritter stopped short of guaranteeing this would be supported by the 91-member House Democratic Caucus, but said there is reason to be optimistic a trucks-only tolls plan could be the centerpiece of a compromise deal.

“We’ve caucused this issue many times, not just this year but over the last seven or eight years. The concept of tolling only trucks has never received the level of pushback that we’ve received with passenger cars.”

Echoing Looney, Ritter told reporters not to discount the importance of Lamont’s campaign pledge last fall to toll just trucks.

“This was what was said would be done and Governor Lamont won that election,” Ritter said. “So that to me is the ultimate poll.”

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.

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.

Join the Conversation

14 Comments

  1. No thanks. It is a Trojan horse for car tolls. Can anyone validate that 80% truck damage on roads claim?
    No trust, no TOLLS!

  2. Did the Governor win election despite the trucks-only toll promise?
    His election was not a referendum on toll plans, though Representative Ritter would like to think so.
    The House Majority leader should develop patience toward comments about slippery slopes and camels/tents. He’s likely to be hearing them frequently.
    Also, prior estimates were that tolls would not produce any revenue for five years while construction is completed. I don’t know if a smaller number of sites could be completed sooner.
    But any article which fails to mention that this delay could also apply to the start of construction projects is incomplete. If work must begin immediately, then tolls aren’t part of the solution.
    Context is important.

    1. Great point on context. You are also correct that Gov. Lamonts beat Mr. Stefanowski NOT ON TOLLS, as Mr. Ritter presents “his version of the truth” but because Mr. Stefanowski’s economic plans lacked detail – especially around reducing the income tax. It will be up to the House Republicans to propose an infrastructure solution that is primarily based on reallocated existing funds and using our vehicle and gasoline taxes as they were ALWAYS intended – for infrastructure AND NOT the “general funding” of Connecticut’s other public services.

  3. Truck tolls only are likely illegal (Commerce Clause), the lawsuit in Rhode Island will tell the tale. Then miraculously, they’ll convert to cars as well.

    1. I have read two recent (October) articles dealing with the oral arguments before the Federal Appeals Court in Rhode Island. And I have listened to those oral arguments myself (one of those articles contained a link to the audio of the oral arguments). Based on what I read/heard of the arguments and the questions and comments from the three-judge panel, it’s not looking good for Rhode Island’s truck-toll-only plan.

  4. The elephant in the room is the failure to address cost cutting to generate cash to pay for highway renovations. No Democrat addresses this elephant. There is no mention of this being a source of revenue which can only mean toll revenue will be wasted on union benefits in the same manner as lottery, income tax and many other tax increases in the last 30 years. And yet the state is worse off and in a state of decline since these revenue sources have been imposed on us. No one can trust this government. I certainly don’t.

  5. Mr. Ritter is is a Hartford lawyer, lobbyist, and career politician and he is not being honest with the residents of this state.

  6. I suspect this hail mary pass to add tolling on trucks is based on pressure by the Move CT Forward” coalition. A Coalition of the Connecticut Construction Industries Assn., CT Ready-Mixed Concrete Assn., New England Regional Council of Carpenters, Carpenters Labor Management Program, LiUNA!, Laborers’ New England Region Organizing Fund, CT Asphalt & Aggregate Producers Association, and CT Laborers’ District Council.

    This isn’t about doing what is right for the entire state. It is about a special interest group trying to profit off the woes ot the state, and politicans they support who are open to selling their integrity for votes

    1. Is your response sarcasm? The courts will rule against trucks only tolling per federal regulations. Once the infrastructure is in place, the politicians will then blame the courts for forcing the state to collect a “nominal” toll on cars.The word amazing gets overused today but Lamont & Co. truly are. They continue to insist on this unpopular tax in spite of every obstacle. Now they are resorting to misleading the uneducated voters of this state. Short term pain for the politicians but long term gain as SEBAC gets its open revenue source and the Democratic politicians get their votes.

  7. House Majority Leader Ritter is disingenuous when he says “Tolling trucks has nothing to do with tolling cars — this is a completely separate issue.” They are not separate issues. Once the infrastructure is in place to do tolls they can become intertwined – that is a common sense fact.

    Mr. Ritter is a well educated person, from a historic political family – thus his intention with that statement is to mislead less educated or less informed voters from his own party. He knows future toll revenue is intertwined and will be necessary to fund infrastructure instead of reallocating money and reprioritizing from other state programs – which is what we should be doing.

    Conclusion. Mr. Ritter, by his own words, shows he can’t be trusted. As many lawyers do, he is “twisting obvious intent” instead of common sense facts. Mr. Ritter please be honest with your citizens we deserve better and only a fool would agree with nonsense anyway, haven’t Democrat leaders done enough damage to our state?

  8. Tolls of any kind is a red herring. It just opens the door for a new revenue source to soak the taxpayers and pay for the unfunded state retirements. Lock box or no, you can bet that Democrats will use tolls to pay their union masters.

    We’re circling the drain folks. Wake up.

  9. Representative Ritter must think we all have memory problems. That’s why he doesn’t want to hear about “slippery slopes” or “camels and tents”. But I haven’t forgotten, and I suspect many, many other people haven’t forgotten, either. Here’s an excerpt from a CT Mirror article from February 16, 2019: “Lamont, who insisted frequently throughout the campaign he would only support tolls on trucks, conceded in a Saturday op-ed piece what transportation advocates had been saying for months: tolling on trucks would not produce sufficient revenue.” If it was true in February that truck-only toll revenue wouldn’t be enough, it’s STILL true today.

Leave a comment
Cancel reply