House-Senate deadlock prompts postponement of tolls vote
Democratic legislative leaders informed the office of Gov. Ned Lamont on Thursday that there will be no vote on a truck tolls bill before the General Assembly convenes its regular session Wednesday, despite assurances each chamber has sufficient votes for passage, said Max Reiss, the governor’s communications director.
“Senate Democratic leaders have confirmed they have 18 votes needed to move our state’s economy forward, reduce the state’s carbon footprint and finally make a long overdue investment in transportation,” Reiss said. “Additionally, House Democratic leaders confirmed they, too, have the votes to improve the state’s infrastructure.”
But not on Monday, the day Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, had set aside for a special session on the governor’s $19 billion, 10-year transportation infrastructure plan.
Or Tuesday, the only other day before the regular session opens.
Senate Democrats informed their members by email there would be no session but did not offer a reason.
Looney and House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, could not be reached Thursday evening, but numerous sources said the two leaders had been unable to agree on which chamber would vote on the bill first, a sign that neither leader fully believed the other had the firm votes for passage.
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, would not comment on the House-Senate tensions, but he said there also were legal complexities about whether a special session could be interrupted to open the 2020 session on Wednesday and then resume. That only would be an issue if Republicans decided to prolong a debate into Wednesday.
“We are prepared to debate this issue until the good, hardworking people of Connecticut are satisfied we have represented their interests. They don’t want tolls,” House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said.
Lamont’s staff informed the governor of the postponement by phone at 5 p.m. after he left a meeting of his workforce development council. He is to meet with Looney and Aresimowicz to discuss what comes next.
A public hearing on the bill will go forward at 1 p.m. Friday.
The development Thursday was a stark demonstration of how opponents of tolls have succeeded in rattling lawmakers about what is a relatively modest measure: Tolls on heavy trucks on a dozen highway bridges, raising about $180 million annually. Lamont began 2019 with a proposal for more than 50 gantries that would charge tolls on all motor vehicles, raising close to $800 million.
Klarides said all evidence pointed to the Democrats not having the votes for passage.
“The old adage in Hartford is, ‘When you have the votes, you vote.’ They don’t have the votes for a draft bill we are going to air tomorrow, which could change radically by the time the Democrats decide, if they ever can, to ram through this legislation and shatter the recognized legislative process at a later date,” she said. “The Democrats are desperate to avoid public scrutiny at all levels, and that has been made clear by them pulling the plug on this process, at this point.”
The governor’s original measure never came to a floor vote, as Senate Democrats said they could not produce a majority for a bill that would impose tolls on passenger cars. House leaders said they could pass a broader tolls measure, but their refusal now to call vote without the Senate going first calls that into question.
Unless the House and Senate leaders can agree on a path forward, the 2020 session will begin with the Democratic governor, Senate president pro tem and House speaker at odds, in the awkward position of being unable to publicly explain why they could not produce a vote on what emerged as the highest priority and most difficult issue of Lamont’s first year in office.
As is tradition on opening day, Lamont is scheduled to address a joint session of the General Assembly on Wednesday. One rationale for acting on a transportation bill in special session was to allow lawmakers to highlight other issues in the three-month, election-year session. It also would free up the governor’s staff to move on from an issue that has been all-consuming.
Democrats hold solid majorities in both chambers, 22-14 in the Senate and 91-60 in the House. Organized labor, especially the construction trades, have said a failure to pass a transportation funding measure will complicate re-election endorsements for Democrats later this year.
All 187 seats of the General Assembly will be on the ballot in November.
The proposed toll locations:
- I-84 at the Rochambeau Bridge between Newtown and Southbury.
- I-84 in Waterbury near the “Mixmaster” junction with Route 8.
- I-84 in West Hartford at the crossing over Berkshire Road.
- I-91 in Hartford at the Charter Oak Bridge.
- I-95 in Stamford over the MetroNorth rail line.
- I-95 in Westport crossing over Route 33.
- I-95 in West Haven over the MetroNorth line.
- I-95 in East Lyme crossing over Route 161.
- I-95 at the Gold Star Memorial Bridge over the Thames River, between New London and Groton.
- I-395 in Plainfield crossing over the Moosup River.
- I-684 in Greenwich overpassing the Byram River.
- Route 8 in Waterbury south of the interchange with I-84.
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