Tolls bill to be finished by Tuesday, then pitched to public
The leaders of the House and Senate said Wednesday they expect transportation financing legislation to be finished and made public Tuesday, a milestone that would enable them to schedule a public hearing and finalize a vote count, two of the last tasks necessary before a vote on passage in special session.
In separate interviews, Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, and House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said they have largely resolved questions raised by rank-and-file members about Gov. Ned Lamont’s 10-year, $19 billion transportation proposal that would establish tolls on tractor trailers at a dozen highway bridges.
With legislative lawyers working on what could be a final draft, the Lamont administration is pushing for a public hearing next week, something that Aresimowicz said was “ambitious, but possible.”
Aresimowicz said he wants a hearing consistent with existing legislative rules, which call for a five-day notice period. Due to the availability of lawmakers, Looney said no vote was likely on the transportation bill or a related bond package before the week of Jan. 27th. The regular session opens on Feb. 5.
A tolls opponent failed to win a special session for a House seat Tuesday, and an issues poll commissioned by environmental and labor groups in advance of the 2020 legislative session recently found a majority of Connecticut voters support “instituting tolls on eighteen-wheeler trucks on twelve Connecticut bridges.”
The poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, a global firm that came to national prominence working for Bill Clinton in 1992 and works for interest groups and Democratic candidates, found 51% of voters in favor and 42% opposed to the administration’s plan, but the numbers improved to 64% in favor and 35% opposed when nudged with more information about the scope of the administration’s plan.
The administration hopes the election results and poll reassures Democratic lawmakers, who know that Republicans hope to use tolls as a wedge issue in 2020.
“If Gov. Lamont is confident in his plan, why won’t he share it with the public, or at the very least the lawmakers who he is asking to vote on it?”
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano
“We’ve reached a point with House and Senate Democrats where we all agree on what the direction needs to be, as to how we’re going to address our transportation crisis,” said Max Reiss, the governor’s communications director. “It’s important for the public to understand precisely what it is, not only how to get to the solution, but what the end result will be.”
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said the draft is overdue.
“If Gov. Lamont is confident in his plan, why won’t he share it with the public, or at the very least the lawmakers who he is asking to vote on it? What doesn’t he want us to know? I can only assume something is in the bill, or not in the bill, that he wants to keep away from the public,” Fasano said.
Democrats said the public will see the bill no later than Tuesday, the day after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
The bill will make clear that passenger-car tolls are not authorized, and Aresimowicz said there was a possibility that car tolls could be placed before the lawmakers so they could go on record voting in opposition, if that was their position.
Aresimowicz and Looney said one of the concerns raised by urban lawmakers was that the state’s urban bus routes be updated to reflect the needs to city residents who do not own cars to commute to suburban jobs. They want assurances that some members of a new transportation oversight board will be mass transit advocates.
The initial rates would be set in legislation, with future increases up to the oversight board, whose members would be appointed by the governor and legislative leaders. The potential increases, legislators said, most likely would be pegged to inflation.
Adam Wood, a spokesman for the environmental and labor groups that commissioned the poll, declined to identify the members of the coalition. But he provided a copy of a three-page memo analyzing the results of two tolls questions.
The results varied by congressional district, with the least support in the 5th District, where 47% were in favor and 48% opposed. The other four districts had clear majorities in support. The broader push language produced stronger majorities across the board.
“The language tested below increases support for tolls on trucks among voters in every demographic group and across all parts of the state, including among voters in the 5th Congressional District who were initially divided,” said an unsigned memo accompanying the poll by GQR, as the polling firm is also known. “Among independent voters, 62 percent support the proposal while 36 percent remain opposed.”
This is the description that moved the needle:
“As you may know, there is a new comprehensive transportation plan designed to reduce commuter drive times, fix crumbling roads and bridges, and reduce emissions that cause climate change. The goal is to create a sustainably funded long-term plan to fix Connecticut’s infrastructure. As part of this plan, Connecticut would institute tolls on eighteen-wheeler trucks on twelve of Connecticut’s bridges. The revenue from the tolls on trucks would be put in a dedicated fund for improvements to transportation and matched with seven hundred and fifty million dollars from the federal government. It will also make Connecticut eligible for low-interest federal loans.”
The poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner is based on live telephone interviews with 500 likely voters from January 6 to 9. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points, with higher margins for smaller subgroups.
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