Half price for infrastructure — or full price?
The highway toll issue has been weaponized, putting party over principles, distortions over facts
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.
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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