Joe Markley

Bait-and-switch is bad enough, but in the case of truck-only tolling, Gov. Ned Lamont isn’t even pretending: he’s telling us right out that he plans to make the switch.  Shame on us if we fall for this scam.

Lamont ran on a platform of truck-only tolling.  His position changed soon after he took office, when he announced in an op-ed that “the truck-only option provides too little revenue, too slowly and too piecemeal to make a meaningful difference.”  From that point until late last month, Lamont dedicated the full power and prestige of his office to the imposition of tolls on all drivers.  He said he was betting his governorship on the issue, yet he couldn’t even get a vote on tolls from his Democrat legislature.

So the governor has returned —nonsensically– to truck-only tolling, which he quite correctly rejected in February as a money-losing invitation to litigation.  (If the state puts up tolls to charge just trucks, then the courts say that we can’t use them for that, do you think they’ll take down the gantries?)

Let’s be clear about what Lamont wants.  In discussing his new plan, he has repeatedly stated that he would ‘start with’ truck-only tolling, that it’s a ‘building block.’  He knows how easy it will be to expand tolling once the gantries are in place — given our state government’s thirst for revenue, it’s inevitable.

Truck-only tolling is a dangerous proposal, for the more gullible among us might actually believe they’re off the hook, and that someone else will be paying.  The governor is pressing hard, and he’ll get his way unless the people press back.

If you’re for this tax because you think it will go away, don’t kid yourself.  The governor doesn’t expect that, as he’s admitted by calling it a start.  Big-government Democrats want a new revenue source, and this one can be sold as a user fee, just as the income tax was sold as a fairer and more stable tax.  (Funny how they keep finding reasons why new taxes will be better, yet they never get rid of the old, bad ones.)

Reassurances by toll advocates are already proving false.  When Lamont announced his return to truck-only tolls, he promised town hall meetings on the subject throughout the state.  Now he’s asking for a vote on the proposal in less than two weeks — and not one public discussion on the subject has been scheduled.  Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz suggested addressing bait-and-switch concerns through a constitutional amendment to prohibit tolling of passenger vehicles (a ridiculous subject to address in the constitution, but we’ll leave that aside).  At the earliest, such an amendment could not take effect until nearly a year after the toll vote the governor is pushing.

Like the state income tax, the people are against tolls by instinct, and once again the people are right.  Like the state income tax, the powers the be—labor leaders, big-spending politicians, business bureaucrats, public policy professionals, know-it-all columnists—assure us that it’s in our interest, if we only understood.

I don’t believe the elites have power because of secret meetings at Davos.  An attitude has spread from the top down that big government is good for us, because it means that experts run everything—you don’t have messy individuals making unpredictable decisions for themselves and their families.  It’s tough for the average person (and in that I include state legislators, who can’t be called an over credentialed crowd) not to nod along in assent when a roomful of our self-proclaimed betters, with their prestigious schooling and bespoke suits, shares with us what everyone thinks who thinks they’re in the know.

Democrat legislators would like to pass tolls.  It would get the governor off their backs, make both the union bosses and the establishment happy, and put an uncomfortable issue behind them.  All that stops them is next year’s election.

Whether we have tolls on everyone, everywhere and forever in Connecticut depends on what we the people do now, before a single toll goes up.  We must make clear to our legislators what is clear to us: truck tolling makes no sense, unless the goal is tolls on everyone.  And if our motto is ‘vote for tolls’—of any sort—‘and lose at the polls,’ we must be prepared to mount the organized effort required to make that phrase stick.

There are politicians who will always want the government to have more money and power.  For the sake of our state and our families, they must be stopped on tolls over the next few days, then replaced at the next election.  If you agree, please contact your legislators now—then hold them responsible for what they do.

Joe Markley is a former State Senator from Southington.

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    1. I agree legislators from both parties need to step up and make the hard decisions, but the Republicans have a point: with a Democratic governor and solid Democratic majorities in both houses of the General Assembly, there’s little if anything Republicans can do. The Democrats don’t need them to get anything passed, and they regularly simply exclude Republicans from meaningful discussions.

      Now, having said that, the Republicans’ idea to take $1.5B of the $2.5B surplus is a ridiculous proposal. All that does is shift money from one funding pot to another and reduces the so-called “rainy day fund”. The credit rating agencies would consider that a bad move and penalize CT, which increases our bonding costs. And, as anybody who has ever taken money out of their savings knows, it’s much easier to take it out than to put it back.

      1. I haven’t heard the Republicans say that they will “be great if we just give them a majority”. And if they did say such a thing, it would be ridiculous. Just as their proposal to take $1.5B from the $2.5B surplus is ridiculous. Everybody — Republican and Democrat — needs to come up with better ideas. But the last time we had anything even close to a bipartisan budget was two years ago when the State Senate was split 18-18.

  1. I agree with the points raised by Mr. Markley, especially calling this a “bait-and-switch”. That’s exactly what it is. The only thing I take issue with is his statement that “If you’re for this tax because you think it will go away, don’t kid yourself.” Beware of calling a toll a tax. That’s one of the issues in the truckers’ lawsuit in Rhode Island. The federal appeals court has sided with the truckers’ argument that the litigation should proceed in federal court, not state court, because a toll is not a tax under the applicable federal law. And if the truckers win their case in federal court, I believe it would not look good for Connecticut’s prospects to toll trucks only. And Markley’s right: do you think the State would remove the toll gantries if trucks-only is not allowed? Of course not.

    1. Yes, the Federal appeals court did reverse the lower court’s decision that “It’s not a toll, it’s not a user fee, it is a tax.” as was in the lower court’s written decision. That’s a different legal interpretation of the federal law’s definition. However, the public perception and obvious reality is that money demanded by the government from its citizens is a tax, regardless of calling it a fee, toll, or whatever other term the government uses.

  2. The best example of government incompetence and myopic leadership is our misguided income tax system. … “Since passage of the state’s income tax, the top marginal rate has been raised four times and state government spending has grown 71 percent faster than inflation, and “non-functional” government spending for debt and employee retirement benefits has grown 174 percent over inflation, according to a 2016 study of the state income tax. Between 1991 and 2014, the state income tax took in $126 billion and is now the largest revenue source for Connecticut state government”.

  3. As usual, Joe Markley is on the money. Truck tolls are just a way to set up the gantries. Then a simple software change will charge everyone and more software changes will cause the price of the tolls to skyrocket. Too many of us love living in Connecticut and will not allow this to happen without a fight. We are not just chattel to provide a lavish lifestyle of the political class.

    1. I don’t disagree that paying the bills and running the state is hard – but why do we NEVER hear about real efforts by the governor & legislature to reduce expenditures?

    2. It is that simple and it has worked so far. Now i do realize tolls are coming no matter what but at least it did delay it for another year. We the citizens send enough money to out gov’t. To you and all you pro tolls folks. Just whip out your check books and dontate. I’m sure the state will take it.

  4. Eventually CT will pass tolls and initially all CT residents will pay. Eventually people will complain it is “economically unfair” and “regressive” so then CT will tie toll expenses to your income.

    Make less than $30k last year? Here is your toll tax rebate!

    Leaving the rest of us to pickup the tab. This will progress to yet another a middle-class tax but fortuately I won’t be here to see it.

  5. Between 2011-2018 the legislature raided our Special Transportation Fund of $650 million. We were on track for a STF surplus of over $300 million over the next three years until Lamont froze the tax revenue stream at 8% instead of letting it increase to 100% by 2024 (general fund transfers are not protected by the “transportation lock box”).

    I would assume NOT emptying the transportation account for other uses is a good way to have money to spend on what needs to be done.

  6. Traffic is jammed because everyone is going elsewhere to work. NYC is the economic and job magnet, not CT. This is not a “crisis” at all. Try going into LA from 20 miles away – 2 1/2 hours.

    This is about finding new “revenue” because Lamont will not cut expenses.

      1. Cut overtime- $270 million in 2018. And by doing so lessens the associated future pension obligations.

        Once SEBAC expires, cut 10% of state workforce immediately. Anyone who has been in the private sector knows this is an everyday fact of life.

        Outsource DMV and other standalone consumer facing administrative functions.

        Eliminate mandatory 2 employees in state DOT trucks.

        Show difference in costs between union and non-union labor for DOT construction projects.

        Stop raiding the STF.

        Finally, the “crisis” around “transportation infrastructure” is also a straw man. All major cities have bad traffic going into/out of them. NY and NYC have tolls as does Boston and Philadelphia. All have terrible traffic.

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