The impeachment trial confirmed that the Republican party will justify anything their leader – Donald Trump – does. By acting with solidarity, they solidify power and amplify propaganda. Alternative facts become “truth” by mere repetition. The same polarized dynamic exists here in Connecticut. The Republican party and its activists use Trumpian tactics – misinformation, intimidation and distraction – to jam the airwaves and hammer their message that Democrats are to blame for everything. The result is a lack of serious policy discussion and a refusal to solve problems even when the answer is obvious.

State Sen. Alex Bernstein

Case in point: tolls.

This “controversial” issue boils down to one simple question: would you rather pay full price or half price? The answer is clear, which is why every state on the east coast, whether “red” or “blue,” has tolls. They save taxpayers money!

The Connecticut Republican party and its activists conflate tolls with taxes, but that’s a false narrative. Tolls are a user fee, the less expensive alternative to taxes.

For the last 37 years, Connecticut has relied exclusively on your tax dollars to fund infrastructure, with disastrous results. We now have the 41st worst infrastructure in the nation and need billions for upgrades. If we don’t have tolls, which would cut our bill in half, the only other option is to raise your taxes. “No tolls” will guarantee “higher taxes.”

Why don’t we make out-of-staters pay their fair share to lower our own costs? Because the Republican party has weaponized this issue. They dominated the discourse and transformed this common-sense economic policy into a political grenade. And Democrats have gone right along by failing to use their leadership position to lead.

The fact is we never needed Republican votes to pass a toll bill. We passed other landmark legislation – minimum wage and paid family medical leave – without a single Republican vote. If Democrats had the courage and political
will to pass a real infrastructure solution, we could do that, too. No excuses.

Unless you want your taxes to go up, you should support tolls. This is why majority-Republican states have tolls, Republican business leaders support tolls and so do many Republican voters. Tolls are originally a Republican concept. But not a single Republican legislator in Connecticut will acknowledge this fact. The party has politicized the issue so they can blame Democrats for the inevitable result of no tolls – raising your taxes.

Ironically, the founder of “No Tolls” is hailed as a hero by the Republican party. His Trumpian tactics have cost every resident of this state a fortune in wasted time, more traffic and higher costs to repair our bridges, roads and rails. By effectively killing the least expensive way to pay for transportation infrastructure – tolls – he has guaranteed the state will use the most expensive way – your tax dollars.

Since I first proposed tolling all vehicles over a year ago, I have been harassed by the Republican party and No Tolls activists. They troll and taunt me online, yell at me in public and wear shirts ridiculing me. Last Spring, they erected hundreds of signs telling people to call me to oppose tolls and I received dozens of calls in support of tolls from my constituents. Thank you for the free advertising! The intimidation tactics haven’t changed my position one bit, because the facts remain the same. Politicians want to confuse and distract you.

But the issue is clear: Either you’ll pay 100% of the cost with your tax dollars or you can get a 50% discount by making out-of-staters pay, too.

We worked hard to achieve a strong Democratic majority in the House and Senate in 2018 and we should use it. The smart solution to our infrastructure crisis is a combination of tolls and an infrastructure bank (my bill is back!). This two-pronged solution would achieve lower costs, faster delivery and greater accountability for public projects and generate thousands of jobs. And by establishing an infrastructure bank we’d be eligible for a federal grant of $100 million to fund projects immediately!

If we can’t pass a strong toll bill this year, I hope we can at least pass my infrastructure bank bill to access the free money the federal government has set aside for this purpose.

In these hyper-partisan times, it’s more important than ever to distinguish between propaganda and facts. The voice of reason is always softer and more nuanced. I’ve stood up to “No Tolls” bullying for over a year, and I call on my fellow Democrats to do the same. Let’s pass a comprehensive, fiscally responsible infrastructure solution NOW. Not a bill that bans car tolls.Not a bill that only tolls a few trucks on a few bridges and will trigger an immediate lawsuit.

Let’s have the courage to do what’s best for Connecticut, to do what we expected from U.S. Senators at the impeachment trial – prioritize country over party, and principle over politics.

State Senator Alex Bergstein of Greenwich represents the 36th Senate District, — Greenwich and parts of Stamford and New Canaan. 

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46 Comments

  1. If the legislature hadn’t spent years diverting funds from the transportation budget, maybe we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place. Even after the people of Connecticut passed a resolution requiring transportation funds to be used for transportation only (what a novel idea!), money was diverted by simply not putting it where it belonged in the first place.

  2. There is plenty to disagree with in this article, but one thing is stands out as very revealing. “Unless you want your taxes to go up, you should support tolls”. This shows this Democrat’s ignorance of the fact that there is another side to the equation – cut spending!

    I think that the electorate will be a lot more receptive to tolls (which are, in fact, a tax) if the Dems would show some effort into cutting spending. I mean seriously cutting spending.

    I believe that many in the electorate would feel more comfortable with tolls if we thought for a minute that any of this toll money would actually be used to fix our roads and bridges. based on history you have not earned our trust that this $$ would not be used simply to expand the bureaucracy.

    You have done nothing to deserve our trust or confidence.

  3. Dear Sen Bergstein,
    Let me keep it simple. First eliminate all state subsudies for rail and bus. Second, increase automotive property taxes in towns such as Greenwich, Darien, etc., so they equal that of the highest urban city. The uber wealthy in Greenwich should not pay less to own their Toyota Camry, than the working poor in Hartford and Bridgeport. Lastly, eliminate state union labor COLAs and Overtime Spiking. Now, reinstate all previously allocated taxes and fees back to the Special Transportation Fund and use the savings and additional monies from the aforementioned to fix our bridges. Problem solved!

    1. Well said. I will add … a simple reallocation of only 2% is more than enough revenue to secure long term federal financing at historically low interest rates, I am curious why we have not used these in the past? Did these loans programs not exist until recently?

    2. Right in all respects. Logical and concise. Your proposal will never be considered in a Democrats mind. The Senator attacks us personally and as low in the gutter as the Mirror will allow with regard to our position on tolls. To consider the merits of your proposal is completely out of the Senator’s or any Democrats mentality.

  4. Senator Bernstein does not grasp why the opposition to tolls is so vituperative. It is not because many voters oppose the goal of tolls – to improve our infrastructure. It is because voters believe the tolls will not be used for infrastructure repair but rather to fund fat pensions and Cadillac health for our bloated political class.

    Lowell Weicker said he would not implement an income tax and did so once elected. Ned Lamont said he would only toll incoming trucks and then proposed tolling cars once elected. Voters suspect that once the toll gantries and set up for trucks, tolls on cars will follow like night follows day.

    If Senator Bernstein simply said our pensions are underfunded by $100 billion and our roads are in disrepair and we need tolls to pay for both these liabilities, she would at least be giving us the courtesy of explaining the real issue here. The problem is not just tolls; it is credibility.

  5. The “a user fee isn’t a tax” argument is nonsense. If the money comes out of citizens’ pockets, and into government’s pocket, it’s a tax. The issue here isn’t tolls per se, it’s overall state spending (and taxing). We’re the third-highest taxing state in the union, and the second-worst in fiscal health. CT does not need “new revenue streams,” it needs less total expenditure. Instituting tolls at this point in our state’s history is like trying to help an alcoholic who’s drunk on gin by introducing him to vodka.

  6. Apparently to Senator Bergstein any opposition to her toll plans is bullying and anyone who dares disagree with her position is “Trumpian”. Denigrating the opposition by calling them names is hardly a winning strategy and shows a lack of persuasive facts to support your position. Polls consistently show a majority of CT residents do not want tolls on cars. The polls show opposition to tolls is bipartisan and not, as Senator Bergstein would like you to believe, only the evil Republicans led by Donald Trump. Surprising is her claim Federal Government funding is somehow “free” but it does show her disregard for the overburdened Federal and State tax payer.

    If the Senator, and her party, wants support for tolls they should offer plans for infrastructure that include reducing the high cost of doing business in the State, we pay nearly four times the national average for per mile highway maintenance and construction costs, to get the greatest value for the tax payer, until then she is just another politician who wants to confuse and distract you.

    1. Hi StillInTheMiddle, we welcome your comments but please note that our guidelines require that comments be limited to 1,000 characters. We will not be able to approve comments that exceed that limit going forward.

    2. The fallacy of her position and her divisive statements is Connecticut’s Republicans are considered moderate Democrats in most “red states”.

  7. It’s absolutely amazing that an elected official does not even acknowledge the people in this state, even if she does not directly represent them, as having their own views and opinions about something that directly affects their financial bottom line. Instead, she proceeds to skip straight to gaslighting them and continuing to insist this is all some big “Trumpian” scare tactic, as if we’re bringing back The Red Scare.

    If you really want to examine the last 37 years of transportation planning, we can certainly do that. Let’s talk about whose decision it was to not complete the original I-291 beltway. Let’s talk about whose decision it was to run I-84 through Hartford on a raised viaduct that would be costly to maintain over time. Let’s talk about whose decision it was to allow DOT costs per-mile to inflate to the highest in the country.

    You’re correct, Democrats can, by virtue of majority, do whatever they want. And I would argue, they have, for the past two decades at least. So why are our bridges and roads minimally maintained? It cannot just be REPUBLICAN OBSTRUCTION. It also cannot be “Trumpian tactics” since that wasn’t anything anyone considered prior to 2016. Please do not treat the people of Connecticut like idiots, when they know damn well that a toll is a tax. Putting a toll on a road used by everyone because they have little choice otherwise, is not a user fee. Being this disingenuous will be noticed come election time and the majority you cling to can, and will, evaporate. And when history looks back as to why, it’ll be because you thought treating the taxpayer as an ATM machine was a really, really dumb idea.

    1. Hi Delta, we welcome your comments but please note that our guidelines require that comments be limited to 1,000 characters. We will not be able to approve comments that exceed that limit going forward.

  8. I really resent the comment, “Republican party will justify anything their leader – Donald Trump – does”. I fully support our President and if this liberal senator doesn’t, big deal. CT will fail sooner or later, unless these liberals leave.

  9. It’s about trust and the overtaxed citizenry simply doesn’t trust government with toll revenue. It’s just that simple.
    TOLLS have become a very real, tangible, easily understood tipping point with the Connecticut populace. Enough is enough!

  10. Wow! Just Wow!

    The incredible waste of taxpayer funding on roads today is dumbfounding. Many roads have been milled and repaved that were not in need of such “maintenance”. The roads that were not in need of resurfacing include 91 from Rocky Hill north, 384, Route 2, Route 17, sections of 84 (some sections of 84 needed to be repaved). The State DOT does not maintain the roads through routine crack filling which would prolong the useful life of the roads. I now see new light posts and concrete bases being installed next to existing aluminum light posts which equals a waste of money. Let’s talk about all the new DOT trucks that Malloy had to purchase that weren’t needed. This is the waste that is plain to see what we are not seeing probably amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars. Why should the tolls, which are a tax, regardless of what anyone calls them fix the wasteful spending? Tolls won’t solve mismanagement only add fuel to the fire.

    Let me be clear, I am not “distracted or confused” the State of Connecticut wastes our money and does not deserve any more than they already take.

    There is nothing hyper partisan about demanding that my tax dollars be spent in a responsible manner, which is not happening now.

    No tolls!

    CT needs to be responsible with the taxes that are currently collected and stop wasting money needlessly.

    1. Hi John, we welcome your comments but please note that our guidelines require that comments be limited to 1,000 characters. We will not be able to approve comments that exceed that limit going forward.

    2. Repaving roads is not a waste of money. Do you wait until all the paint is peeling off your house to repaint it? It takes a long time to design, bid and start projects. You just don’t go out and point to a road and say to a contractor “Repave it”. All of the roads you mentioned needed repaving. You may not think so but they did. Filling in cracks is not easy or cheap. It’s very labor intensive, disrupts traffic and it does not significantly increase the life of the paving.

  11. There are 3 things that need to happen before I support tolls.
    1) EVERY DOLLAR paid for infrastructure goes into a lockbox. That means every gas tax, gross receipts tax, DMV fee, car sales tax.
    2) The cost of road repairs is brought down significantly. I read that our road repairs cost several times the national average.
    3) Boondoggles like CT FasTrack are scaled back to profitable levels. And John Larson’s multi-billion dollar Big Dig is put away for good. (Ressurrect the Hartford Beltway)
    Maybe we need to be like Florida and spin off DMV to be a quasi-public agency that also does the roads.

    1. 1 Lockbox sure. Remember the constitutional amendment to limit the budget after the income tax passed? 2 Prevailing Wage.
      3 Larson is going nowhere until he gets a Primary from a AOC type.
      CT Fastrack has been operating 5 years and we still have no clear state numbers on its ridership or expenses. What makes you think that is going change?

    2. Along with your #1 suggestion, the pension, benefit, and personnel expenses for DOT, DMV, and Public Safety that were shoved onto the STF years ago need to be moved back to the General Fund where they belong.

      1. Hello Ms Rubinsky,
        If I remember correctly. I think we impose a 7.75% New Car Sales Tax on all vehicles over $50,000. In addition to high registration, plate and annual property taxes on every vehicle. So, you must know something I don’t. Please share?

  12. Your viewpoint is unbalanced. It ignores essential data (for the sake of making an argument) and lacks historical context in regards to trust and prioritization of government spending.

    While we do need to invest more in infrastructure, especially in certain chokepoints, you should know that fixing infrastructure DOES NOT equal fixing far more significant structural issues in our economy.

    However, may I suggest that you start by cleaning up the graffiti that we all drive by on I-91 in downtown Hartford everyday. A client from North Carolina commented to me that if that happened in the city of Charlotte it would be taken down the next day, maybe even that night. She asked me how long that graffiti was there? I replied … “decades”.

    Is there a lot of graffiti in Greenwich Senator? Wake up.

  13. Funny how she is blaming this on republicans. Republicans aren’t even in play on this issue…The democrats can pass this on their own so stop pointing the finger. It’s about time the people of CT stood up and starting holding these money hungry liberals accountable for the destruction of our state’s economy.

    1. I’m guessing she’s trying to draw Republicans into the mess because, for a while, we had Republican governors (Rowland and Rell). But (1) the problem started before them; (2) both of them had to deal with Democratic majorities in the legislature; and (3) we’ve had a Democratic governor plus Democratic legislative majorities since 2011.

  14. How exactly is this a choice between “half price and full price”? First of all, every projection I have read states that out-of-state drivers would account for 40% — not half — of tolls (if, of course, tolls applied to all vehicles, not just trucks). Second, we are already paying full price through all the various taxes we pay, from income tax, to sales tax, to gas tax, not to mention all the myriad fees and taxes that are SUPPOSED to go into the Special Transportation Fund, but don’t. How is ADDING tolls to the mix going to magically reduce Connecticut residents’ share of infrastructure payments to half? What kind of math is this representative using?

  15. The Democrats in this state spend us into oblivion, tax everything that is not nailed down and still that is not enough. This newly elected State Senator whose background was focused on non profits, does not understand this basic truth about economics. Money equals mobility. Those that can afford to leave will and have been for some time now.

    Connecticut has lost so much under these people. What will be left in the end, is a state full of people that do not earn enough to leave and companies that will not come here because of the high cost of living.

    Whoever is last at the Connecticut dinner table will be stuck with a bill so enormous, it cannot be paid. Bankruptcy will follow and only then will there be an opportunity to fix this mess.

  16. Lamont should declare now that the day after the SEBAC agreement expires 5,000 lay-off notices will be sent. And unless the unions agree to 20% cut in expenses (compensation, benefits, overtime spiking, pensions) another 5,000 will be sent the following week.

    That will take care of the “infrastructure crisis”. Which, by the way, doesn’t exist.

    And, all infrastructure contracts should be publicly put out to bid to union AND non-union companies. Let’s see the difference in cost.

  17. The Democrats have been in charge of this state for a lot longer than Trump has been president, if you want user fees (TAXES) go ahead and do it. Then the deplorables will vote out the democrats and finally elect leaders that will get the state back on track.
    So lets talk user fees, someone buys an electric or hybrid car they are not funding the roads because they purchase how much gas? How about these bike riders that use our roads in the summer, and the Democrats gave them access to the roads and made motor vehicles stay 3′ away form them, how about a user fee for them? Golf carts cross roads at several locations in the street, how about a user tax on golf carts, I’m sure your country club buddies in Greenwich don’t mind paying a bit more to use them. Hey how about joggers they run on the roads you show hit them with a user fee.

  18. “Trumpian tactics”? Really, Alex, the use of that catch all phrase to define everyone you disagree with is in itself ALSO a political tactic–a cheap shot. The gas tax was supposed to be for infrastructure. The funds were supposed to be held in a transportation lock box. Didn’t happen. I drove through DE yesterday. They have tolls. They don’t have sales tax. I drove through VA and DC before I paid my first toll in MD for using the Harbor Tunnel. The heaviest tolls on this well traveled route are in NJ and NY, the two most leftist dominated, most heavily taxed and arguably most corrupt states along the route from Alexandria, VA to Norwalk, CT. Starting to see a pattern? Crumbling infrastructure and tolls seem to go together.

  19. Alex. A couple of items left out. 1. Most till states have a lower income tax rate than CT. 2. Most states do not have a property tax on cars. 3. Most of these states debt burden is less ban ours. Also. Considering Lamont sold this plan as a way to get federal low interest loans. Don’t you think you should be nicer to trump. It is his admin that will sign off on the loans.

  20. Bernstein supports tolls for one main reason-the further subsidizing of her Greenwich neighbors’ trips into NYC. Well, that and more revenue to spend. Naturally, as a CT Dem, she attacks toll opposers through a gratuitous attack on DJT.

    If CT voters believed for a moment that toll revenue would go to actual infrastructure, or the moving target of who gets charged stops moving, there would be widespread support from ALL sides. Repeated past actions tell us all that this will not happen. CGA Dems could pass this all by themselves but her fellow Senators have reportedly set up a vote to end in a tie that will be broken by the Lt Gov. It sounds like HER Party has the “lack of serious policy discussion” problem.

    1. And in, other but related news, Hartford, either “The Rising Star” or “Has It”, ranks as the 46th”best” capital city in the country in which to live! So, despite the $500 million debt bailout, $3.2 billion in new CREC schools/palaces and $1 billion annual education budget (Hartford & CREC), hundreds of millions in state/CRDA subsidies and loans and none of it has made a difference.

      https://www.wfsb.com/news/best-and-worst-state-capitals-to-live-in-where-hartford/article_ca8b8dfc-5182-11ea-a9b1-dfcdc6f0f1df.html

      Transportation infrastructure is just the latest “revenue” enhancement that, like virtually all government “programs” accomplish nothing.

  21. Thank you Alex. Thank you for pointing out the hypocrisy of the Republican position. Thank you for advocating for government based on facts and advocating for CT residents and not out-of-state drivers. You rock.

    1. No doubt, Sen. Bernstein’s has an educated opinion and writes a good viewpoint but she ignore history and that matters to ordinary people. She has chosen to purposely leave out important facts to make her case. She also oversimplifies a complex issues in order to further her own agenda. At the same time she places blame on others around her. Who else does that remind you off?

      In fact it seems like she is learning all the wrong things from her political colleagues in Hartford and that is very disappointing to the people who voted for her. Thankfully, as the overwhelming amount of comments indicate, she is convincing no one. Anyone voting for tolls is in serious trouble come election time and for what? $175 million in new funds? Politically it is not worth it, there are far better ways to get bipartisan support. Sen. Bernstein is wrong is she thinks there is not.

  22. WRONG, you do not understand how the world works. The companies that own the trucks will increase shipping and handling fees, and/or the price of amazon prime and similar services will increase , no matter how you look at it, the expense is passed to the consumer creating a defacto tax. It is you who does not understand tolls ma’am, not the reader. you errantly/ignorantly pose this as a pay for it 100% out of taxes or 50% by out of state, the reality is that there are more choices then that. Do the hard work, cut costs, this is a lazy solution to a problem the legislature created.

    1. 100% correct, all increases “up the supply chain” eventually get passed down the chain over time, unless the unit sale price can’t be supported and then the company will stop selling unprofitable goods and services. The argument that those fees are already built in is not true because our new tolls will add to the wholesale total not deduct from it.

      This is easy to solve…

      Reallocating 2% of the budget – that raises $450 million and guarantees us super cheap federal loans. Add back in taxes on gasoline, vehicle and transportation related fees to the STF and this problem resolves itself and created thousands of jobs. I would go further – separate out income taxes from those new jobs to pre-pay the interest on older pension fund debt that carries a higher premium and I bet you basically get that federal money for no interest.

  23. Your party has owned Connecticut since 2011. If you wish to pass the toll tax, Democrats in the legislature can do it today. They don’t even have to vote in both chambers simultaneously in the cowardly way proposed by your senate leader. What are you afraid of?

    The last I remember, your tax will raise only $200M and won’t be in place for some years. Given the track record of transportation funding, this is just step one in a complete tolling plan because you Democrats have an insatiable appetite for taxing, spending, and borrowing. This madness has no end because we’re going broke paying for all the unfunded state union worker retirement benefits.

    This toll victory will be a hollow one for you. At some point there won’t be enough taxpayers or wealthy Greenwich liberals left to pay for your utopian dreams. Your party is killing our state. Well done.

  24. Over 111,000 Connecticut residents bothered to sign a petition that we are against tolls. Thousands rallied at the Capitol. Thousands more stood at local rallies, wrote emails, called their Representatives (many of whom never responded to their constituents btw). But to Senator Bergstein we are just a bunch of bullies? CT residents who disagree with this representative are name called by her but those who agree with her are publicly thanked. What kind of leadership is this?

  25. Oh man, WAKE UP folks! A full *35* states have toll roads! And for the SIMPLE reason that they are the cheapest, most transparent and MOST FAIR way to raise funds for major road construction and road maintenance! There is NO POINT to continually denying the reality of the situation, year after year, ESPECIALLY in tight-budget Connecticut and ESPECIALLY with the advent of extremely effective, accurate and SAFE automated toll-collection technology.

    Yes, the relevant plans for the Waterbury area NEED to be revised, but that is easily accomplished and present NO reason for tossing out the baby with the bath water.

    Time to join the 21st century, Connecticut, instead of continuing to insist on trying to live in the past.

    1. But do they, in addition, have the gross receipts tax on gasoline, property taxes on cars, and the same high costs for licenses and registrations that we have? And the same history of failing to use the income from those for things other than transportation costs?

      1. I can’t speak to other States but I know that VT has three toll roads. Each of them is very specifically for the maintenance of those individual ‘special’ roads. There is the Mt. Mansfield Toll Road (Rte 108 up to the Mountain summit), Burke Mt toll Road (similar situation) and Skyline Dr (ditto–and it’s a private toll road). Those hardly bear being mentioned when discussing States tolling their roads.

      2. I think that the people of Connecticut would be less resistant if the history of using taxes that were collected for infrastructure/transportation for that purpose wasn’t so dismal. I wouldn’t mind paying tolls for the maintenance of the roads I used if it was actually used for that purpose.

    2. Dear SteveC1,
      However, most of the other states do not have a “Gross Receipts Tax on Gasoline”. Please do not treat others as if they do not know the facts. We all know the intent of Toll Revenue is to allow diversion of existing transportation funding sources, and as a source for future General Fund shortfalls. It appears it is those who support tolls, that seem to lack all the facts, or may be intentionally deciding to ignore them. We are in the 21st Century, but do not like where our government is heading in the future.

    3. Most of those states have lower or no income tax. Most of these states don’t have a property tax on vehicles. Most of these states have a lower sales tax. Most of these states have a lower fixed costs. Most of these states have lower property taxes. If our government was truly trying to get out of state drivers as they claim, they could have offered to reduce any of the taxes above and make tolls revenue neutral for CT citizens and really made it about out of state drives. Remember 60% was always coming from us.

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