Critics of truck tolls in Connecticut are scoffing at the idea that tolls are a baby that anyone could love. But there’s plenty to celebrate about a proposal that will help Connecticut raise badly needed funds and build a transportation system for the future.

Here are three reasons why Connecticut residents and politicians should be shouting their support for the governor’s truck toll proposal.

Restore Connecticut’s investment in infrastructure

Connecticut’s highway and transit systems are deteriorating and inadequate. One reason is that the funding stream for infrastructure has diminished significantly. Back in 2000, Connecticut cut its gasoline tax from 32 cents per gallon to 25 cents per gallon. Adjusted for inflation, the gasoline tax is now worth just 17 cents per gallon in 2000 dollars (or just 53% of its value before 2000). Rising vehicle fuel efficiency also means that transportation revenue per mile driven also is declining. Doubling fuel efficiency effectively halves gasoline tax payments made by drivers, while newer electric vehicles do not even pay the gasoline taxes.

With construction and maintenance costs rising, and the revenue stream declining, it’s no wonder that it feels like the state doesn’t have the money it needs to invest in its transportation future — that funding has been slashed and needs to be restored.

Trucks driving through New England pay tolls in New York, Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire, and soon will pay them in Rhode Island. Why should they drive across Connecticut for free?

Protect education and health care

Connecticut’s fight over tolls may seem to revolve just around transportation, but the struggle over tolls also has significant implications for education and health care.

Opponents of tolls, including the Connecticut Republican Party, are demanding instead that the state fork over the sales tax revenue on motor vehicle purchases to pay for transportation investments. Yet Connecticut’s sales tax is a general tax, not a special transportation levy. Sales taxes paid on purchases of baseball bats don’t go to the youth sports fund and the sales tax on bicycles doesn’t pay for bicycle lanes. Diverting sales taxes on cars to the transportation fund robs the Connecticut general budget of money that should properly be spent on other state programs, and ultimately would lead to cuts in education, health, and other government programs.

GOP leaders also propose to raid the state’s Rainy Day Fund, money set aside to help the state weather the next economic recession. Anyone who lived in the state during the Great Recession should recognize that draining the Rainy Day Fund to pay for transportation directly undermines the state’s future ability to pay, for example, local education aid to cities and towns during a recession.

Truck tolls, in other words, will help safeguard education and health care spending against efforts by the GOP and highway advocates to raid the general fund and the state’s financial reserves.

Advance public health, climate action, and transportation reform

Truck tolls make particular sense from a public health perspective. Connecticut’s air is badly polluted with the kind of particulate matter that impairs cognitive development, shortens life expectancy, and raises health care costs. Diesel-fueled trucks contribute significantly to this pollution. Truck tolls would serve as just one small mechanism to compensate for the “health toll” that heavily polluting trucks place on Connecticut citizens and the state budget. So-called “free market” advocates love to talk about fair competition between different industries. Here’s a chance to ask toxic trucks to play on a more level playing field.

And what about climate change? The climate news has been worsening — change is happening even more quickly than many anticipated. In just the past year, significant fires in California and Australia and flooding in the Midwest and Florida have given a glimpse of what might be coming with even greater intensity in the future. Connecticut urgently needs to shift its transportation system away from its dependence on fossil fuels. The governor’s CT2030 transportation spending plan, as commentators have pointed out here, here, and here, does not go nearly far enough to develop the kind of sustainable transportation system necessary to respond to the climate crisis. Much more funding is needed for transit and for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.

Critics of truck tolls, by contrast, seem to think that Connecticut can simply continue blithely on its way. They never mention air pollution. They don’t acknowledge climate change. Why should they be trusted to look out for anyone but the trucking industry?

It’s not hard to cheer for truck tolls in Connecticut. Indeed, it’s not even that complicated. The legislature should get it done.

Paul Sabin teaches energy and environmental history at Yale University and lives in New Haven.

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38 Comments

  1. Make vehicles more efficient-we don’t pay enough taxes
    Subsidize electric vehicles-we don’t pay enough taxes
    Earmark taxes-we don’t pay enough taxes
    ~200 arsonists set Australia fires-we don’t pay enough taxes
    Tolls just on trucks-we don’t pay enough taxes
    Schools are failing-we don’t pay enough taxes
    Fewer people smoke-we don’t pay enough taxes
    We need full-time legislators-we don’t pay enough taxes

    There seems to be a pattern

  2. IF the legislature and Governor GUARANTEE that is how the money will be spent(legally in statute or something else they cannot change easily) then I’m ok with it. Past history shows that they will collect the money for infrastructure then spend it on something else. Notice how they resist a lock box or any other measure that deals with this promise. NO.NO. NO. That is not appropriate.

    1. Even if there were to be the guarantee you mention, it’s still a bad idea for numerous reasons. Just one reason are the huge initial and on-going overhead costs of these systems. If a new revenue source is truly needed, and that’s highly questionable, then an existing tax system or a new low overhead one should be used. Compare the overhead expenses of tolling systems with the little or no overhead costs of the Healthy Homes Fund tax on homeowners’ insurance. That even off-loaded collection costs to private insurance companies. The Passport to Parks tax is another example of a low overhead new tax. Overhead expenses reduce net revenue.

  3. For someone interested in reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas production the argument seems even stronger for increasing the gasoline tax, thus encouraging the purchase of more fuel efficient cars and trucks, which tolls do not achieve.

  4. Dear Mr Saban,
    I respect your knowledge and opinion. However, a toll on the primary transportation used for “all” consumer goods. Is nothing more than a regressive tax on every consumer in this state, no matter their income level. This is very unfair. Maybe a better way to generate transportation tax revenue, is to reevaluate so-called organizations and venues that skirt paying property taxes based on their so-called nonprofit status. To be candid, I feel institutions that pay executives and staff salaries in excess of $100,000.00, are using taxpayer dollars via exemptions, to unfairly profit off backs of taxpayers. Comments?

    1. I agree with the first half of your comment. Nonprofits are exempt from taxes under state law. Also, since property taxes are paid to municipalities, not the State, even if nonprofits were subject to property taxes, that money would not go to the Transportation Fund.

      1. Dear NoNonsense,
        Taxes and their use are fungible. This has been displayed by our State Government and the Special Transportation Fund. Bottom line, if local tax revenue increases by taxing certain nonprofits. Those municipalities will require less state funding and support from state taxpayers. Thus enabling repurposing of those orginal funds.

  5. The author, in my opinion, is drinking the koolaid of Connecticut’s Democrat party dogma. What are the TOTAL annual revenues generated by gasoline taxes? Why are funds legislated to be put into the STF diverted out of this fund into the general fund? What evidence is there of “badly polluted air”? And what scientific evidence can you reference that “climate change” is the result of human activity? And what does climate change have to do with irresponsible Connecticut government in their diversion of transportation funds?!!

  6. Tolls will be like the tobacco settlement money. The revenue will vanish into the gaping maw of the general fund. The winners will be the employees of a new Quasi, who will party harder than the Port Authority “workers”.
    WSC– “I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.”

  7. This makes some very good points. Whether we like it or not, the state needs significantly more money to fund and improve our transportation network. The fact that the gas tax has not been increased in more than 20 years should be telling. Inflation over two decades have significantly reduced the buying power of that revenue.

    The Republican Plan is not sustainable and will require a future hike in taxes to pay for it. That hike will be paid mostly by Connecticut residents and not the people using our roads. Tolls will get out of state drivers who currently use our roads for free to pay their fair share like we do when traveling on roads in every other state on the east coast.

    What people don’t realize is just about every other state is looking at tolls now to fund roadways. Massachusetts just publicly announced a study to expand tolls in their state. The time has come for Connecticut to address a problem we have long ignored. Truck tolls is a step in the right direction.

    1. I agree, Jay. Some days I count up to 30 – 40% out of state cars. And I don’t mean in Danbury, by the border. It’s Waterbury/Southington area.

      Truth is, we subsidized their wear and tear on our roads. For years I heard the counter to tolls as ‘People won’t visit our state.’ Bull. It’s a through-way to New England. I’m not mean-spirited about our neighbors or anything, but neighboring states have some tolls and we wonder why Connecticut is hemorrhaging money.

    2. Truck tolls would be a step toward tolls on everybody. In Rhode Island, a lawsuit has been brought by the American Trucking Association and three other plaintiffs challenging the legality of tolling only trucks. Considering that there’s a federal law barring what Rhode Island is doing, and considering that the plaintiffs got a unanimous decision in a federal appeals court that this IS a federal issue, it’s not looking too good for truck tolls in RI. Do you think the State of RI will tear down the toll gantries if they lose the lawsuit? I don’t. And just like here, it’s all rosy revenue projections. Providence Journal 1/2/2020: “The state budgeted $25 million from truck tolls in the year that ends June 30. Between July and October, the tolls have charged trucks $2.2 million. Last year Rhode Island truck tolls billed $7.3 million.” So RI has reaped in FOUR MONTHS what they budgeted to receive EVERY month. Pie in the sky nonsense. And CT wants to jump on the nonsense bandwagon.

  8. We already have tax for transportation. It’s called the gasoline/fuel tax. This is just an excuse by Democrats to have yet another method to take money from the working class. Bad idea!!!

  9. Paul Sabin received his Ph.D. in 2000 from the University of California, Berkeley. Because California is doing so well, he decided to try and “help” Connecticut.
    The uber liberal ideology he spews at his current employer, Yale University, is heavy on climate change and his most current ignorant position is…he trusts that “trucks only” tolling means “trucks only” tolling. It is merely a foot in the door for full bore tolling.
    Somehow his liberal fantasy thinking convinces him that toll revenue will contribute significantly to infrastructure in Connecticut and not go in union’s pockets.
    He thinks toll revenue will magically protect education and healthcare.
    He writes that toll revenue will advance public health, climate action and transportation reform. Why stop there Paul? Maybe toll revenue will feed the poor, end illegal immigration and stop people from fleeing Connecticut.
    Your California ideology is failing miserably in California. Stop trying to “help” Connecticut.

  10. “Trucks driving through New England pay tolls in New York, Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire…”
    SOME interstate and major highways are tolled in those states but not all. I-91 has no tolls, nor do I-84, I-87 (Northway portion), I-93, I-95 (except the ME Turnpike portion), I-195, I-287, I-290, I-295, I-395, I-495. Vermont has none.
    Is the rationale that since other states do it on selected roads, CT must also?
    I cannot support this “Trucks Only” toll premise simply because it will not remain so. Perhaps the current write of the proposed bill says trucks only but it will open the door for a future legislature to expand it to other, and perhaps all, vehicles.

  11. To those posters that are opposed to tolls I ask you this: How exactly do you propose to pay for the billions of dollars in improvements that our state so desperately need? Would you rather see the gas tax raised which could need to more than double to cover the cost? I would be interested in hearing what realistic sustainable solution you think there is.

    1. How about starting with not diverting to the General Fund revenues that are supposed to go to the Transportation Fund? And not transferring General Fund expenses to the Transportation Fund? Two good places to start. Then we might have the beginnings of a transparent budget process.

    2. We should pay for them with the state income tax, sales tax, and massive Lamont broadening of taxable items already in place. Furthermore, this article is filled with so many “inaccuracies” it is shocking. The extra lane on I95 (which won’t happen anyway) will not bring residents and businesses but a less hostile tax and regulatory environment might. I am a high earner and a high tax payer, I have a second home outside CT, we have the means and we will be leaving in the next few years largely due to these never ending tax hikes that pay to elect a political party. Impose your tolls – a short term annoyance to me but a real hardship to many who can’t afford to leave and those that struggle with monthly budgets. I would be interested in hearing what you intend to do to help those families – and spare me Lamont’s toll discounts and credits to low income households, people like me are leaving – who is left to pay? A disgrace.

    3. I would first end the practice of diverting funds intended for the transportation and using them for general fund. We’ve squandered nearly $2B in this way according to former state senator Len Suzio. Then I would unpack the transportation fund with operations costs like DMV and DOT salaries/benefits and put them back into the general fund where the rest of the state salaries and benefits are. I then would reapportion remaining funding into roads and bridges instead of so much public transit (bus to nowhere anyone?). I would also investigate why the debt service costs in this fund is so high relative to the overall fund.

      In short, I would remove the plundering and lying politicians who squandered the well-funded transportation fund and then expect the taxpayers to pay more taxes (tolls) to keep the lies going. Many of us taxpayers are fed up paying ever more taxes for legislative malpractice and incompetence.

    4. Oh, Jay! You ask the same question again & again despite it being answered for you in the past. Get over it. There ARE other ways, just re-read the responses you have been given and stop beating your dead horse. The need for a new revenue source for our roads & bridges is a false narrative created to justify adding a regressive driving TAX on our highways and bridges. Also, read Meg Nutter’s reply below. She’s got it right.

      1. I keep asking it because NOBODY has given me a real answer. The reason for that is they can’t. Its not a dead horse. It’s an important problem our state has to solve after decades of neglect and deferring an answer. Kicking the can down the road solves nothing as has been shown over the past three decades. It’s time for a real long term solution that serves the people of our state for generations.

  12. Former state senator Len Suzio lays out very nicely how the taxpayers have been betrayed by politicians who a) jammed the Transportation fund with operating costs that belong in the General Fund, b) used more transportation fund dollars for public transit than it does for bridges and tolls, and c) diverted nearly $2B intended for the transportation fund to pay for other things. And we’re supposed to trust politicans who want “truck only” tolls? I don’t think so.

    Here’s the article: https://www.myrecordjournal.com/Opinion/Guest-Columns/ColumnSuzio-rj-011220.html

    1. I read that op-ed a couple of weeks ago. Thank goodness Len Suzio is staying on this issue and laying out actual facts (those pesky things).

  13. We could fix a lot of the transportation woes in the State of Connecticut. If Yale University voluntarily paid taxes on their sprawling number of properties, and $30,000,000,000.00 endowment fund. Hopefully, Mr Sabin will suggest this to his employer.

  14. The author states that “the funding stream for infrastructure has diminished significantly”. This is completely untrue.

    First, the petroleum gross receipts tax has increased from 5% in 2000 to 8.9% today and Petroleum Gross Receipts tax collections have tripled from $103.3 million in 2000 to about $330 million last year – triple the annual revenues in 19 years.

    Also there are only 11, 677 registered electric vehicles in CT out of more than 2.8 million registered motor vehicles in the state. That’s four tenths of one percent! Not enough to make any perceptible impact on motor fuel purchases.

    Next, the volume of gas sold in Connecticut was 1,499,730,971 gallons in 2009 and in 2019 was 1,532,186,933 gallons. You don’t have to be an Ivy League professor to know that is an increase in consumption even though we are using more fuel efficient cars.

    So some of the most significant arguments put forward by the author are completely untrue.

  15. The Yale professor makes illogical or factually inaccurate arguments. CT’s gas tax isn’t 25 cents. CTMirror 7/5/19: “Connecticut imposes two taxes on gasoline…25-cents-per-gallon retail tax…and a percentage-based tax on wholesale transactions. Gas station owners then routinely build this
    cost into the base price they charge — meaning motorists ultimately pay both taxes.”

    He says “toxic trucks” impact public health and climate change. Do tolls make trucks less toxic? What’s the alternative to moving goods by truck?

    He says, “Opponents of tolls…are demanding instead that the state fork over the sales tax revenue on motor vehicle purchases to pay for transportation investments. Yet Connecticut’s sales tax is a general tax, not a special transportation levy….” Obviously he hasn’t read the OLR’s March 2018 report listing what by law are SUPPOSED to be dedicated revenue sources for the Special Transportation Fund. Here’s the link: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2018/rpt/pdf/2018-R-0088.pdf

    1. If you read this carefully you will see that the original intent of the fund was to give CTDOT a stable source of funding that is not controlled by the budget constraints and whims of the Governor and Legislature. Prior to the establishment of the fund CTDOT had to fight for a share of the General Fund making it very difficult to plan projects over the long term. If there was a different intent, the fund would have structured different. It would have been a project construction fund dedicated solely to just fund transportation projects. It was not so it’s kind of clear the intent is to fund all expenses relating to transportation. That includes labor costs.

  16. I’ll say one thing about the anti-tollers: They are vocal and probably a minority. They remind me of local PTAs

    1. Hi jschm, in the interest of fostering deeper discussion, can you offer a few examples of achievable spending cuts that you would like to see?

      1. When Lamont took office he gave his direct reports 40k more than previous admin. We gave Hartford 500K not budgeted and 30 million for census work. DOT claims mixmaster will overrun by 100 million. What kind of estimate is that? DOT estimates are way to high compared to other states. We are one of 5 states that allow collective bargaining for pensions and benefits. Cut it.

  17. Here’s some Renewable Energy news for the fossil fuel haters:

    “Another Obama solar initiative bites the dust, but not after stealing millions from individuals, companies and the US government. This solar project turned into the largest Ponzi scheme in Eastern California history. It was reported this week that the owners of a massive solar company turned ponzi scheme were indicted this week in Eastern California. According to the DOJ in Eastern California. The owners of DC Solar, a Benicia-based company, pleaded guilty today to charges related to a billion dollar Ponzi scheme”

    Just the latest ‘Solyndra.’

    1. Hi Papa Blue Stars, in the interest of fostering deeper discussion, can you provide a link to the source of this excerpt?

    2. Papa Blue Stars, I, too, would like to know where this excerpt came from. I could not find one legitimate news source linking Obama to this company. Not one.

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