Gov. Ned Lamont talking to reporters Monday. In the back are anti-toll protesters. mark Pazniokas / ctmirror.org
Gov. Ned Lamont, flanked by Sen. Martin Looney, left, and Sen. Bob Duff and Rep. Matt Ritter after agreeing in November to pursue a truck-only tolls.

The Senate Democratic majority intends to take a hard count Tuesday of votes in favor of a 10-year transportation financing plan that would rely on truck tolls, a pivotal moment for Gov. Ned Lamont as he approaches the last day of his first year in office on Wednesday.

“We hope we can get to 18,” said Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, a reference to the bare minimum necessary for passage. “We hope we can move on to the main business of the next session.”

Eighteen votes would guarantee at least an 18-18 tie, with Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz poised to cast a tie-breaking vote in favor as the presiding officer of the Senate. Democrats hold 22 of the 36 seats in the Senate.

“We’re looking forward to tomorrow’s caucuses,” Max Reiss, the governor’s communications director, said Monday.

Democrats still hope to pass a transportation package in special session before the regular 2020 session opens on Feb. 5, allowing the majority party to focus on less controversial measures before adjourning in May to begin re-election campaigns. 

The administration has said an early vote would allow the state to begin the process of applying for low-interest financing available from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, and Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said there is no policy rationale for a special session, only a political desire to neutralize a difficult issue with a quick vote and minimal public review.

“It’s not a popular issue,” Fasano said. “They want to get the dirty laundry out early.”

“If you think you have the votes, then wait until the session starts,” Klarides said. “There is no urgency.”

House and Senate Democrats are both caucusing Tuesday to review the latest iteration of the Lamont administration’s fitful campaign for revenue it says is necessary to return Connecticut’s highways and transit system to a state of good repair and make improvements to shorten commutes.

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, was unsure Monday if he would take a vote during his caucus, but he said his sense for months has been that the House Democratic majority would support even a broader tolling plan.

“I still feel feel very comfortable,”  Aresimowicz said. “We were in a very good area with tolls before. This is a drastically reduced and more politically positive plan moving forward. As Marty has said, rightly so, this has been tested at the polls.”

Lamont, who was elected on a platform that included truck tolls, instead made an initial proposal in February of a comprehensive system of highway tolls on all motor vehicles using Route 15 and Interstates 84, 91 and 95. It would have included at least 50 toll gantries.

A CT 2030 plan, as the administration dubbed the new version released in November, still would have included tolls on passenger cars but was praised for making the case for individual projects, a failure of the original proposal.  The governor personally pitched it to Senate Democrats in November, only to be immediately told it was not “broadly palatable” to lawmakers.

House Democrats countered by suggesting a return to a version of Lamont’s original campaign proposal: truck tolls — something that has been implemented by Rhode Island, but is being challenged in court by the trucking industry.

On Monday, it was unclear how detailed a plan would be presented in caucus. Lawmakers and the administration have agreed to toll only heavy commercial trucks, without settling on a precise weight classification. The U.S. Federal Highway Administration has 13 classes of  vehicles, and at least half would be exempt in Connecticut.

Last month month, the administration released a financial pro forma indicating that truck tolls on a dozen bridges could produce $187 million in net revenue annually and finance $19.4 billion in transportation infrastructure improvements over 10 years.

Lamont, a Democrat and wealthy businessman who self-funded his campaign in 2018, made transportation the focus of his first year, saying Connecticut’s slow economic growth was at least partly a consequence of highway bottlenecks and an inadequate Metro-North commuter rail system.

Looney and other Senate Democrats viewed the governor’s first toll proposal as politically toxic and a risk to the gains made in 2018, when Democrats won a strong majority after two years of sharing power in an evenly divided chamber. But Looney said the version to be presented Tuesday “is even a more modest plan than the one he ran on successfully.”

Opponents of truck tolls say it would be the first step to a broader system, but Looney noted that car tolls gained no traction in the General Assembly, making expansion a political non-starter.

The legislation under consideration would not give the state Department of Transportation the authority to toll cars, meaning that broadening the system would require the consent of a future General Assembly.

“We’re clear,” Looney said. “We are supporting no plan that involves tolls on passenger cars.”

Lamont will talk about transportation at 9 a.m. on WNPR’s “Where We Live” and Thursday morning on WTIC-AM. If there is a special session, the legislature is expected to hold at least one informational hearing.

“It’s in their hands now,” Reiss said of lawmakers. “At the end of the day, it’s the legislative process. And we respect the legislative process.”

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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11 Comments

  1. There is no need for any of this. Reallocate 2% of our $21.5 Billion budget and you have the payment stream to secure cheap federal loans. Then put our gasoline and current transportation taxes back into infrastructure and this problem is solved permanently. Are Democrats saying they can’t reallocate even 2, of an already bloated budget, if so then their entire argument is nonsense, we already have the money, Democrats just spend it on the wrong things.

    1. Spend it on the wrong things and are totally unwilling to cut anything anywhere in the budget.

  2. Democrats have already shown that they are willing to divert and divert money from the transportation fund for other budget needs. Why would we trust them to say they’ll only toll trucks?

    Lets call a spade a spade. This is about securing a new funding source to pay for the never-ending budget deficits caused by unsustainable state union worker pensions and retirement healthcare.

    Please vote these “leaders” out of office at the earliest opportunity. We have had enough Democrat budget shenanigans and social engineering.

  3. I’m a lifelong CT resident who is deeply saddened by these ridiculous tolls! The Dems raided/diverted funds from the Special Transportation Fund Lockbox. PUT THEM BACK! We voted for that lockbox only 14 months ago – how about honoring our vote?

    Lawmakers short-changed Connecticut’s Special Transportation Fund by $650 million between 2011 and 2017, according to a transportation funding document released by Senate Republicans — more than enough to pay Connecticut’s portion of the new commuter rail line from New Haven to Springfield, Massachusetts.

    The vast majority of the funds were “diverted” away from transportation funding, meaning the revenue scheduled to be placed in the STF was kept in the General Fund to aid with budget deficits and general government expenses.(1) (https://yankeeinstitute.org/2018/08/27/connecticut-legislature-short-changed-transportation-funding-by-650-million-since-2011/)

    Governor Lamont – how about cutting expenses? It’s the taxes that are destroying the economy in CT – wake up!

  4. Could I please have a list of companies poised to move to CT if we make the train commute into New York 10 minutes faster? I am yet to see a failed business in CT blame slow rail or congested highways…those things exist everywhere and tolls don’t fix them (ever been in traffic on the Mass pike or GW bridge?). When I see cited reasons for businesses moving or failing they are typically poor tax and business climate which this governor ignores. The blueprint to recovery and success already exists, look at what the states our people and businesses are moving to are doing and duplicate it.

  5. More broken promises by the majority party. More spending and more spending needs that extra revenue stream and the retirees need that pension fund propped up by more taxpayer dollars.

  6. Trucks consume so much of our major highways. To be sure, many truck drivers crowd CT roads on the way to Boston, etc. just to avoid the fees in Massachusetts. Thus tolls may be expected to reduce congestion and wear as well as bring much-needed revenue.

    Why the GOP mindlessly says “no” to reasonable user fees supported by every other state is puzzling. Is the rainy-day fund burning holes in their virtual pockets? Or, is it to support out-of-state truckers – who may contribute money even though they have no vote?

  7. I am originally from Connecticut but live on Long Island. Why is it that CT is the only state in the VA to ME cooridor with no highway tolls? If you want a decent transporation system whether road or rail you have to pay for it and renew it all the time. Roads and rail rust constantly and are always decaying. You have to keep them up to snuff. There are only two real sources of revenue to maintain roads and rail: Income Taxes or Tolls. So you have your choice. Tax yourselves properly or have frequent Cos Cob Bridge failures. (Low interest rate Federal loans are a phony choice – – you have to pay the loans back).

    1. You forgot the flat and per gallon gasoline taxes which, ahem, are supposed to go into the transportation fund. If we actually trusted our “leaders” in Hartford to use funds in the transportation fund for transportation, we might be more receptive to tolling. Based on history, we have reason to believer that they will use tolls as the next new revenue source to feed the underfunded union retirement benefit beast.

    2. “There are only two real sources of revenue to maintain roads and rail: Income Taxes or Tolls.”
      Not so Mr Ryan – there is also the fare that you pay to utilize mass transit.

  8. I suspect that one of the real reasons this hasn’t been passed yet is that the Dems don’t want to go down alone in voting for it.

    They want this to be “bipartisan” so that the Republicans get to share the blame as well.

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