Gov. Ned Lamont: "I have lost patience." mark pazniokas / ctmirror.org
Gov. Ned Lamont: “I’ve lost patience.” mark pazniokas / ctmirror.org
Gov. Ned Lamont: “I’ve lost patience.” mark pazniokas / ctmirror.org

Gov. Ned Lamont effectively gave up Wednesday on Senate Democrats ever calling a promised vote on truck tolls, scolding fellow Democrats and telling reporters his administration was ready to explore alternative funding sources for transportation. But Senate Democratic leaders protested they would have been ready to vote next week, a claim Lamont did not find credible.

“Don’t say, ‘I can’t make up my mind, I need another week, I need another week, I need another week,’ ” Lamont told reporters in a hastily called press conference after legislative leaders left his office, refusing to comment. “I’ve heard that for a year, and I’ve lost patience.”

Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, cancelled a vote that had been tentatively planned for Thursday, blaming a 30-hour filibuster threatened by Republicans as reason to once again pause and regroup. House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, distanced himself from the Senate Democrats.

“I have always believed a tolling plan that captures out-of-state vehicles was the right thing to do to help move our state forward and protect Connecticut taxpayers from paying the whole tab for our infrastructure needs,” Aresimowicz said. “We were poised to act in the House tomorrow, but we need our colleagues in the Senate as well and apparently their ability to also act was tenuous.”

Republicans said the Senate Democrat’s blaming a potential GOP filibuster for the cancellation was pretext; Democrats didn’t have the necessary votes for passage.

Lamont, a Democrat who took office a year ago, said it was hard to believe the Democratic majority ever would be ready to vote, despite claims by Looney and Aresimowicz that each could deliver a victory — if only the other chamber went first, or somehow could simultaneously take up sections of a plan to charge tractor trailers tolls on a dozen highway bridges.

” ‘We’re going to vote on Thursday.’ Everybody said that to me not less than five days ago,” Lamont said. “Here it is, Thursday is tomorrow, and they said, ‘Not yet, maybe next week.’ I’ve heard that in this building for the last year, and I think you’ve all heard it for 30 years. This is a place that specializes in kicking the can down the road, and I don’t accept it.”

Lamont said he was unsure how the setback on his first-year priority would affect his relationship with Democratic legislative leaders.

“We’ll see,” he said. “Look, I’m a little disappointed. I think you are elected to make choices. And if we make good choices, we really get this state going again. You’re not elected to say, ‘I can’t make up my mind’ or ‘I don’t want to vote this week, I want to vote next week’ and just push it off — something we’ve done in this building for a generation.”

This is a place that specializes in kicking the can down the road, and I don’t accept it.”

— Gov. Ned Lamont

The Republican minority leaders, Sen. Len Fasano of North Haven and Rep. Themis Klarides of Derby, whose caucuses were uniformly opposed to any form of tolls or new transportation revenue, said the issue of tolls was almost certainly dead for the rest of a three-month session that ends May 6.

Fasano said legislators were ready to tackle other issues and set aside a fight that had “sucked the oxygen” out of the Capitol. Klarides said she hoped the governor learned a lesson about trying to keep pushing an issue that clearly had run aground.

Neither Republican was willing to say the governor had suffered a fatal blow, undermining his ability to govern.

“We all know that your enemy today is your friend tomorrow in this building, so I wouldn’t read too much into this,” Fasano said.

Legislative Democrats, however, can expect blowback from their allies in organized labor.

Dave Roche, the president of the Connecticut Building Trades, said the Democratic majority was outmaneuvered by Republicans and had failed construction workers. He said Fasano was correct when he repeatedly said that Senate Democrats did not have the votes for passage.

“To be honest, I think the Republicans did a good job of fending off at least the Senate Democrats,” Roche said. “Len was right. If you have the votes, run it. If they weren’t going to run it, why not get in a room and work something out?”

Nate Brown, the political director of the Operating Engineers and vice president of the building trades, had been quietly skeptical for weeks that the plan ever would come to a vote. But he said Wednesday’s announcement still was hard to take.

“It’s disappointing that the legislature will not take a vote on the governor’s transportation plan — the only plan that responsibly takes advantage of federal loans, toll revenue from heavy out-of-state trucks and results in 23,000 jobs over the next decade,” Brown said. “The governor said it best: This proposal would create a recession-proof jobs program for thousands of workers in our state, allowing middle class families to flourish during a possible economic slowdown.”

Don Shubert, president of the Connecticut Construction Industry Association and an advocate for tolls, said he could appreciate the governor’s frustration with legislators.

“At this point it’s difficult to tell if Connecticut has a long-range plan to start addressing its transportation problems,” Shubert said. “I think everyone agrees that Connecticut has a shortfall in transportation funding.”

Lamont said his administration would now turn to other funding sources to address a backlog of transportation maintenance and improvements, including  leaning more heavily on general obligation bonding, a step that could deprive funding for other capital projects. Whatever the administration pursues, the governor will need the Democratic majority.

House Democratic leaders deferred to the governor Wednesday, withholding comment until after he addressed reporters.

But Senate Democratic leaders rushed to release a statement before Lamont spoke, insisting they still could deliver on a transportation financing plan relying on truck tolls — if only Lamont and the House Democratic majority could give them another five days. The statement seemed intended to avoid blame for a major policy and political setback for a Democratic governor.

“We are still confident that Senate Democrats have the votes to pass a comprehensive transportation plan which includes 12 toll gantries on 18-wheeler trucks only. We are prepared to hold a session next week to vote on a bill to make the necessary transportation investments for Connecticut’s economic development, residents, and businesses,” said Looney and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff in a joint statement.

A ‘pause’ on the vote

Kevin Coughlin, a spokesman for the Senate Democratic leaders, later clarified that the Senate had no plans for a vote next week.

“The governor put a pause on it, so there is no vote,” Coughlin said.

Aresimowicz, the House speaker, said the Senate had struggled to find the votes, noting Looney’s awkward statement after a Democratic caucus a month ago about a “contingent consensus” for truck tolls. Aresimowicz acknowledged he never was confident in the Senate leaders’ assurances that they could win final passage if the House took up the bill first.

“It would be irresponsible for me, given everything that’s happened in the last month, to vote for a bill and put it on the Senate floor, to have no guarantee it would pass if we sent it to them,” Aresimowicz said.

Looney could not be reached for comment.

Insolvency ahead

Connecticut currently directs fuel taxes and various other revenues into a Special Transportation Fund to pay debt service on transportation projects, as well as the operating expenses of the Department of Transportation and Department of Motor Vehicles. But the fund is projected to become insolvent in the next five years, and the state has a significant backlog of infrastructure maintenance.

Connecticut borrowed nearly $800 million last fiscal year for highway, bridge and rail upgrades by issuing special tax obligation bonds, notes to be repaid from the Special Transportation Fund. That $800 million was complemented by approximately $750 million in matching federal grants.

But that $1.55 billion falls far short of the $1.9 billion-to-$2 billion that DOT Commissioner Joseph Giulietti says the capital program needs each year, to maintain a state of good repair and to begin to make strategic improvements that the Lamont administration says are necessary for economic growth.

The administration has said it would need to redirect about $200 million of general obligation bonding to complement the $1.55 billion already earmarked for transportation.But even with those funds, a $1.75 billion annual investment in transportation work would fall short of the $2 billion annual target DOT officials have set.

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.

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

Join the Conversation

38 Comments

  1. Reallocate 2% of our $22+ Billion annual budget and use that money to secure federal loans. Take all new income, businesses taxes created from new construction projects (open bids) and set that aside to pay down pension debt in essence retiring older debt for cheaper newer debt in an effort to offset infrastructure costs. This can help pay for itself because we dont have to start paying back principle on federal loans until the projects are complete – in essence giving us 7-15 years of focused pension debt reductions. Add back in all vehicle taxes and gasoline taxes back to the STF and this problem is solved.

  2. Who’s on first? A continuing of self-induced Democrat Party chaos! Perhaps they are at last listening to the majority who do not want tolls of any type!

  3. One year of a new administration wasted trying to go against the will of an over-taxed, tired and frustrated constituency. Time to roll up your sleeves and get to work on some meaningful budget cuts that will make our state attractive to business and residents. This governor comes out of this with no credibility, no tolls, and very little support.

  4. Finally someone is admitting they are listen to the people! Lamont needs to move past tolls and work on other more pressing things like the state employee pension mess that will bankrupt us! No Tolls Never!!!!!

  5. I feel sorry for Gov. Lamont. He seems like a very decent man but I have to ask why at age 66 and wealthy beyond imagination he wanted to be Governor of CT? He seems so ill at ease in the job and public speaking for him appears to be torture. The time and effort wasted on tolls is sad. This state has such major issues and he chose tolls as his first order of business. If Lamont is going to ignore the giant elephant in the room (unsustainable pensions, healthcare benefits and state employee pay & benefits) I wish he would just step down and allow Lt. Gov. Bysiewicz run the show now, rather than wait for another year to say he is frustrated and not running. So while I feel sorry for Gov. Lamont, I wish he would walk away right now if he is not going to be honest about the real pressing issues. If the article on the UCONN Medical school does not define this bankrupt state, nothing does.

    1. The previous governor made certain that all those who followed him would have their hands tied until what? 2030?
      Eight years of Malloy were the nail in Connecticut coffin.

  6. I feel Lamont is right and now knows what the rest of know.. the legislature is hurting the state. TIme to clean house huge. I feel sorry for him.. I think he naively believed that they would perform responsibly for him. He is not the issue in my mind, its the Democratic House and Senate leadership. .

  7. “It would be irresponsible for me, given everything that’s happened in the last month to vote for a bill and put it on the Senate floor, to have no guarantee it would pass if we sent it to them,” Aresimowicz said.

    Translation: I’m not going to let us (Dems) vote for the tolls we want and expose ourselves to criticism for having done so if the Senate Dems won’t do the same.

  8. Why is it that so many other states can maintain and improve infrastructure without tolls?
    Could it have something to do with how completely dysfunctional and corrupt this state is?
    We have never had a revenue problem in this state. We have a spending problem.

  9. Move all staff salaries and fringe benefit costs out of the Special Transportation Fund and back into the General Budget Pool, and you have all the transportation funding you will need for the next 200 years. Now put on your Big Boy Pants and fix the real problem.

  10. Governor Lamont owns this failure, not the Senate Democrats. Poorly rolled out, not explained, tolls become a very tangible example of the citizenry’s distrust of state government.

    1. Oh, I think there’s plenty of blame to go around on this one. The General Assembly Democrats (you vote first, no you go first) look like cowards. That adds to the distrust.

  11. I just really hope this is true. What Lamont does not understand is we are tired of hearing about fixed costs. We are tired of the permanent fiscal crisis. It’s been all that has been discussed for a decade. All taxpayers have seen is increase s time and time again. This has to show all of government that we are tapped out. Lamont should have sold his to ‘ll plan with a decrease in our income tax and make tolls revenue neutral for CT residents and sell it as really going after out of state drivers to find out transportation.

  12. No not “everyone will agree CT has a shortfall in transportation funding.” We have a spending problem not a revenue problem. If the money allocated for transportation was spent on transportation there would not be such a frenzied push for one of the most expensive & corruption receptive means of collecting revenue.That this is so appealing to dems, construction workers, and unions is telling. The thugs lost this round. Thugs literally, union “men” roughing up a woman who protested tolls. Mr. Lamont has that perpetual “deer in the headlights ” look ,that has continued since taking office. Even the sleazy “special session” couldn’t push this disaster over the finish line. Folks should be outraged this was the strategy employed to side step built in methodology and rules for properly vetting legislation. This seems to be in the DNA of dems, nationally as well as locally. Very telling and dangerous. Rules, laws and the Constitution are an inconvenient stumbling block to their insatiable lust for power and money at all costs.

    1. Hi Toni, 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.

  13. Dear Gov Lamont,
    This can be your greatest momement. You now have the opportunity to turn our state around. Ignore those who are self-serving , politically motivated and who have a parasitic relationship with our state government.
    If it is too costly…cut it, it it is too large…shrink it, if it is too influential…disband it, if it is self-serving…ignore it, etc. If you do as I say, you could become the Greatest Governor we have ever had. Be fearless…do what is right for the people.

  14. In a $21B state budget, no one can find (or even look for) $200M for transportation? Really? That’s a 1% cut. If we stopped diverting money from the transportation fund and pulled operating costs out (DMV, DOT), we’d have plenty of funds for transportation projects.

    Lets be real. The state has no money because rich union retirement packages have to be funded in real time. Our profiles in courage Democrat legislators will never kill the sacred union cow so we taxpayers have to bend over again and again and accept more taxes from our elite rulers. Meanwhile, our state continues to circle the economic drain.

    Here’s a solution: Vote the corrupt Democrat plunderers out of office and start over with people who care about the state and the rest of its 3 million people- not its precious unions.

  15. The union’s statement that 23,000 “recession proof jobs” would occur if tolls were enacted exposes the continued myth of union employees. Nothing is recession proof. In the real world, nothing is guaranteed but in the economic world of state employee unions, their only goal is to obligate taxpayers to guarantee no union member will be laid off. I am exhausted by this contradiction.

  16. Lamont said he made choices – true. What also is true is that most of his choices are bad; they hit the overworked taxpayers of this state and benefit dems by them dolling out our money to consumers of state resources (who likely vote for candidates that give them free money – not the producers of state resources.)

  17. Increase the gas tax and drop the tools. This will delight the drivers of electric and alternative fuel vehicles. Those who can afford hybrids will be content. Those who can’t afford new vehicles will pay most of it.

    Eliminate the gas tax and install the tools. Let the people who use the roads pay the toll. Drivers will stop off in CT for the low gas price.

    Personally, I see it as a no brainer….

    1. End the subsidization of electric vehicle purchases since they still use electricity to charge them but don’t pay the gas taxes.

      1. Unfortunately, that’s not likely to happen, because a priority is making the state “green”. But it is hypocritical, since the electricity used to charge these heavily subsidized electric cars is powered by fossil fuels.

  18. Truck tolls would be tacked on the invoices going to companies, which the company in turn raises the cost of goods and services to recoup the costs. This is what we call inflation. Don’t be fooled. He’s kicking his own can down the road. Time to find a new can to kick. There are plenty of other ways to created revenue. I guess he’s just not up to the task, or can’t think outside the tolls. Sad, this is what we have until we can replace him. Lamont should be removed for his inability to Govern.

  19. This issue is confusing.
    The DMV decided that about $2 billion per year would be appropriate. Truck tolls would produce less than $200 million, not even 10%. If that money couldn’t be found elsewhere, the process could be slowed. Given the years before revenues would be available, there’s no rush.
    One possible explanation: tolls have little to do with transportation, odd as that sounds. Instead it’s an obvious new source of money to the state. The car toll estimate was about $800 million, and that begins to sound like real money.

  20. Question for the mirror. A couple of weeks ago there were articles of Lamont easing 300 mil in debt to get tolls. Did he give this up prior to this no tolls vote of can he know tell the dems in GA they don’t get money no w? Also can be take back the 45 mil he promised Joe for the trans authority?

  21. Since when did the tolls represent 23,000 state jobs? When people are asking the state to cut back on expenditures Lamont wants to add 23,000 state jobs more than the number we have now? If it wasn’t for the casino works being claimed as state workers we really have not seen any major decrease in the number of state workers under the democrat governors regimes.

    1. I don’t think that estimate refers to 23,000 state jobs. I believe that those jobs are in the design and construction of the toll gantries and perhaps ancillary businesses that support the construction industry.

      1. Another gift to the unions. Bid all contracts to non-union vs union companies and see which costs less.

        It’s our money.

      2. In government contracting, it’s not always about price alone. It’s also about qualifications. If you and I both bid on a project, and you charge a million dollars and I charge half a million dollars, it’s going to come down to who can actually do the job or provide the service. If I don’t have the qualifications (no experience, inadequate staffing/equipment, etc.) and you do, who do you think should be chosen?

      3. Clearly a state union “employee” who is paid on the backs of the private sector. What happens when all the people paying the bills leave? 30,000/year now.

      4. Interesting. Based on factual information I provided about how things work, you have made assumptions — incorrect ones, by the way — about me. And I notice that you didn’t answer my question.

      5. Why are we locked into union only contracts? Has a state contract ever been put out to bid with non-union companies? Ever?

        You assume that only union companies are “qualified” to do the work.

        Guaranteed there are qualified non-union companies that will cost less and do the same or better quality work.

        But we’ll never find out.

        It’s my money.

      6. WatsonAL, there you go again, assuming something that’s not there. Show me where in any of my comments I said anything about “union companies”. Show me where I use, or even imply, the word “union”. I’ll wait.

      7. I didn’t ever say you said it, I simply responded to your statement regarding qualifications and your implication that only more expensive contractors were qualified. I want to know why my money is only spent on union contractors and non-union ones are not permitted to bid.

        You didn’t answer my question. There you go again.

      8. Your comment was, and I quote, “You assume that only union companies are “qualified” to do the work.” And I did not imply that “only more expensive contractors were qualified”. My point was that price alone isn’t the determining factor, and it shouldn’t be. You are the one making assumptions. I do not know what companies are/are not unionized. I do know that the state publicly posts invitations to bid and/or requests for proposals — and that means that any interested provider can submit a bid/proposal. I have never seen an invitation to bid or RFP posting that specifies that applicants must be unionized. If you can show otherwise, please do.

Leave a comment