NORWALK, Conn. – You need to defend the facts when it comes to tolls, State Rep. Chris Perone (D-137) said.
To that end, Perone, State Rep. Lucy Dathan (D-142) relayed the facts to a friendly crowd of about 50 Democrats with a PowerPoint presentation in Norwalk Community College, including a nugget Dathan thought important: raising the gas tax by 1 cent would generate $15 million a year in additional revenue, not a very big drop in the bucket when everyone agrees that $700 million a year is needed to fix Connecticut’s infrastructure.
The pair were joined by Gov. Ned Lamont.
Video by Harold Cobin at end of story
“There’s a lot of guys walking about with signs that say ‘no tolls,’” Lamont said at the May 13 event. “Well, what do you want? Just more gridlock or, ‘It ain’t don’t broke don’t fix it’? That’s not a prognosis that either party is subscribing to right now.”
Perone and Dathan explained that Connecticut Republicans agree that the state’s infrastructure needs fixing, but would rather bond the money than install tolls.
No Tolls CT organized a rally Saturday in Hartford.
“Chanting things like ‘Save Our State’ and ‘No Tolls,’ a crowd estimated at 2,100 showed up at the state Capitol on a sunny Saturday to protest a proposal to install tolls on four highways in Connecticut,” CTNewsJunkie reports, commenting that the rally started late because some legislators were stuck in traffic due to accidents.
“There is no question that our transportation system is a mess,” Lamont Senior Advisor Colleen Flanagan Johnson said in a statement released in response to the rally. “A broad coalition of local, business, labor and legislative leaders all agree that we need a reliable, sustainable path forward for Connecticut. We rank near dead last in the nation for the condition of our infrastructure.”
“The people who attended today’s rally aren’t saying no to tolls,” she continued. “They’re saying yes to excessive borrowing on the state’s already maxed out credit card. They’re saying yes to saddling future generations in this state with debt we can’t afford. And they’re saying yes to an unsustainable and reckless fiscal policy. We are at a crossroads, and if we don’t fix our transportation system now, our economy will continue to lag for decades to come.”
The Republican bonding plan would make it tougher to fund school construction and other important needs, such as dredging, flood control and fire training schools, Dathan and Perone argued on May 13.
Democrats have a working draft of a toll bill, indicating that the state would cut the gas tax by one cent per gallon per year over a five-year period to offset the additional cost of tolls, CTNewsJunkie reports. The draft also includes discounts for low-income residents and outlines investments in a number of critical projects.
“It’s likely the General Assembly will debate a toll bill next week as it races toward its June 5 deadline,” CTNewsJunkie reports.
Working families, “say 125 percent of poverty,” might get 100 miles put onto their EZPass, and perhaps bus prices in cities will be reduced to $1, Lamont said last week.
The good news is that both parties believe in fixing the infrastructure, he said, predicting that no Republican will vote for tolls and calling that a “shame.”
They all believe $700 million a year in funding is need if you’re going to “speed up Metro North, improve the exits on I-95 to end that congestion,” Lamont said.
The money will go into a lockbox, and, “I understand the skepticism people feel but at the end of the day this is the most important investment we can make,” Lamont said. “And yeah, people leave because of taxes but they also leave because it takes them an hour to go 10 miles. … That’s a job killer for the state.”
An audience member asked why tolls are not a shoe in, given that the legislature is dominated by Democrats.
“It’s a tough vote,” Lamont said. “You’re asking people to sacrifice a little today for a much better tomorrow, and you’ve got the other team saying ‘you can have all of this and it won’t cost you a dime, we can just borrow it in the future.’ And frankly, when you have elections every two years casting a tough vote is not always easy.”
Perone and Dathan are “loud and clear” in their support for tolls, he pointed out.
State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) recently declined to take a stand.
Revenue from gas taxes have dropped, Dathan and Perone said.
“We have an opportunity to be a little bit longer term thinking and this is a plan that is going to take time to get onboard and to implement,” Dathan said. “…. Eventually, I certainly would like to see that this would be the main source of our revenue and we will not be reliant and hopefully our gas taxes will be able to come down in the future.”
“For a long time I was a no on this,” Perone said. “I get frustrated, too. Seems like every time you turn around, the state, they are always asking for more money from me.”
He always thought a lockbox would be needed, so that, “Whatever we raise on tolls, those will be dedicated funds only to help transportation, to build out our infrastructure, to make us more competitive,” he said. “I think I can get behind that.”