Opponents of tolls were vocal in recent years. mark Pazniokas / ctmirror.org
Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, left, and Senate GOP Leader Len Fasano are at odds on tolls.

Faced with the threat of a 30-hour debate by the Republican minority and a less-than-certain game plan by the Democratic majority, lawmakers have put off tentative plans for a Thursday vote on tolls legislation until at least next week, the top Senate leader said Tuesday night.

Both House and Senate Democrats remain unwilling to go first in debating the bill that would authorize truck tolls on a dozen highway bridges — an extraordinary acknowledgement of the continued distrust by members of each chamber that the other has the votes for passage.

Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said the latest scenario for attempting passage is to split the bill in two, each authorizing tolls on six bridges — one bill beginning  in the House and the other in the Senate. The bills would be exchanged by each chamber like hostages.

“Both chambers would have to pass both bills,” Looney said.

The Republican minority leaders, Sen. Len Fasano of North Haven and Rep. Themis Klarides of Derby, said the machinations by the Democratic majority are an affront to the General Assembly.

“I thought last week’s flimflam was bad,” Klarides said, referring an earlier plan to attempt synchronized votes and debates of identical bills. “It was a miscarriage of the process. But this one is just beyond.”

 Fasano said Republicans not only will debate the bills at length, but withhold typical courtesies that lubricate the machinery of legislating — such as waiving a reading the bill.

“They have a right to run any bill they want as the majority, but they don’t have a right to bastardize the system,” Fasano said. “I’m going to challenge them. They are going to read the bill [aloud]. They are going to read the amendments. They are not going to get away with this easily.”

Looney said the promise of a 30-hour filibuster will require preparation by both chambers. Senate Democrats will caucus on Thursday to talk about what may come next.

“We have to figure out a time next week to set aside 30 hours, if need be,” Looney said.

“The House will be begging for a 30-hour vote by the time this debate is said and done,” Klarides said.

Democrats control the Senate, 22-14, and the House, 91-60. Looney has told the governor he can produce 18 votes, enough for passage with the help of a tie-breaking vote by Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz.

Republicans said Democrats have no grounds to accuse the GOP of dilatory tactics, since they are turning the process on its head.

“If you are not going to respect the institution, don’t ask me for respect,” Fasano said.

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, could not be reached Tuesday.

The governor’s office declined to comment beyond Gov. Ned Lamont’s statement earlier Tuesday that his last communication with the leadership left him under the impression the vote would be Thursday. 

Lamont and Looney spoke on Saturday.

The debate over tolls has turned into a saga.

A year ago, Lamont proposed a comprehensive system of tolls on cars and trucks at more than 50 locations on Interstates 84, 91 and 94, as well as the Merritt and Wilbur Cross parkways. It would have raised as much as $800 million annually.

When lawmakers refused to bring the measure to a vote, the administration countered with a downsized version of tolls on cars and trucks on 13 bridges. Legislative leaders could not find the votes for passage.

House Democratic leaders proposed a compromise accepted by Lamont and Senate Democratic leaders: tolls at 12 bridges, but only on tractor trailers. That would raise about $175 million annually.

“We had assumed the House would go first when we compromised. The compromise was offered by the House,” Looney said. “They declined to go first.”

The current plan is getting squeezed from both sides. Every Republican in the General Assembly promises to vote against any form of tolls — or new transportation revenue, for that matter. Some supporters of Lamont’s ambitions for a plan to spend more than $19 billion on transportation over 10 years grumble that the compromise raises too little money.

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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14 Comments

  1. There is only one word to describe our Democrat majority – “pathetic”. None of this makes any sense, especially not for a lousy $175 million that will not get the job done anyway. There is no question left of Democrats incompetence on this issue. From Gov. Lamont’s broken promises and “wishy washy” tolls strategy, to Sen. Bernstein’s misguided comments in The Mirror, to Sen. Looneys “Wesley Mouch Style” interference in the Senate, to Speaker Aresimowicz’s blind support of special interests under the guise of “helping the working man”, who Democrats then tax to death.

    The tolls debate is nonsense and it will not save our economy anyway? We have plenty of money to invest in infrastructure, Democrats are spending our $22+ Billion annual budget on the wrong things and not only is our ship sinking it is on fire. Wake up Connecticut, we have far bigger issues to solve than tolls.

    1. It’s not just the D’s spending all that money. The R’s have a hand in it too.
      You mention that we are spending on the wrong things. I hear that all the time on the local right wing talk show on the way home. But it seems that nobody suggests which programs can be cut.
      What are you suggesting to be cut?

  2. I guess tolls are not popular with the residents of the state…can the majority figure that out?
    Aresimowicz not available? I thought football season was over.

  3. Can taxpayers and voters take legal action against the House and Senate for intentionally attempting to obfuscate the Constitutionally Mandated Process? Any Constitutional Lawyers out there willing to take this on?

  4. It is time for Governor Lamont and Co. to graciously step away from this. Whatever promises have been made (ATT/5G, Pork Projects for votes, Aresimowicz/union jobs) they need to be unmade. Lamont’s legacy is now this morass. We have a State that is in need of leadership on many fronts – social services for the disabled, homelessness, growing drug overdoses, etc. This issue is sucking all the air out of “the room where (nothing) happens.” Democrats! It’s time to let it go and move on.

  5. Can somebody please explain the math to me? There were going to be tolls on all vehicles at 50 locations, and it was going to bring in $800 million. Now the plan is 12 bridges and trucks only, which is supposed to bring in $175 million. So that’s about a quarter of the original number of toll places, and just under a quarter of the original revenue projection, but WAY FEWER vehicles (trucks only as opposed to all vehicles). Are these people using fuzzy math or do they just think we’re all stupid? Is it any wonder why the public doesn’t trust these politicians?

      1. Thanks for the reply, but I don’t believe it answers my question. Are they planning to charge more for trucks under “trucks-only” versus what trucks would have paid if all vehicles were subject to tolls? Because to me, 50 gantries x all vehicles = $800M versus 12 gantries x trucks only = $175M doesn’t add up. It would make more sense if 12 gantries (roughly 1/4 of original 50) x all vehicles produced roughly 1/4 of the original $800M estimate. Nevertheless, the revenue target keeps moving. In December 2018, Lamont said trucks-only tolls would raise $200-$300M. The article link above that you referred me to gave the estimate for trucks-only at 12 gantries as $187M. Now apparently the estimate has shrunk to $175M in this article. Is anybody surprised?

  6. Kill the gas tax, drivers will come to CT for the cheaper gs prices. Go with the toll tax to equalize payments for road repair with those that use the roads. Drivers of electrics and gas alternates are not paying gas tax. Drivers of hybrids pay some. Only gas cars pay the full tax.

  7. Normally I would find this to be hysterical, if it wasn’t so sad. Current leadership of House and Senate has decided to forfeit their own self respect, respect for the institution, and for all of us to boot. Wow.. just Wow.

  8. The fact that they promote this nonsense in a public manner almost seems like they are asking for our approval to pass legislation via these shenanigans. All while they are being compensated as elected representatives. It’s a circus in the LOB.

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