Critics praise governor’s plan — except the tolls
HARTFORD — For five months, Gov. Ned Lamont and his team have had one goal: to come up with a brand new, comprehensive plan to improve the state’s infrastructure that could net bipartisan support.
On Thursday it was clear they’re only halfway there. Republican legislators and other critics praised the plan — dubbed CT2030 — for its thoroughness, and for outlining specific priorities and how to fund them.
Where they still vehemently disagree, though, is over the funding source for some of the proposed projects. Their mantra remains the same: Not one toll.
“The plan itself is prioritizing what our needs are,” said state Rep. Vincent Candelora, RNorth Branford. “I think that Republicans continue to be concerned about a new revenue source being introduced and what impact that would have on our residents and if there is an alternative we would like to pursue that.”
That, despite all the praise for including Republicans in the conversation and coming up with a thorough plan, will be Lamont’s biggest hurdle: overcoming a broad distrust that the state will do as it says and remove the tolls once the projects are completed.
“Yes I have been involved in the conversations,” said state Rep. Jason Perillo, RShelton. “But my first reaction is that any effort to convince residents that this will be temporary is laughable and sad.”
Lamont said he’s open to suggestions and he’s willing to change aspects of the plan his team has toiled over for months, whether that is prioritizing other projects or finding new revenue sources if there is any stone his team has left unturned. His only requirement is that “the numbers add up,” and Republicans are taking that directive to heart.
“The Democrats in the legislature have said they’re not going to vote on a plan without Republican support, so it’s almost an all or nothing proposition,” Candelora said. “That’s why I think it’s more incumbent on Republicans to try to work with the governor to come up with a solution. Our transportation fund is not solvent, and doing nothing is not an option.”
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano said Republicans are working on their own proposal, without tolls or added fees.
“I think there’s a pathway,” Fasano said, admitting that while the governor and Democrats would like Republican support, it’s currently unlikely, although he is studying Lamont’s proposal. “We are working on a solution. We are working very hard.”
A handful of protesters from the group No Tolls CT showed up at the unveiling of CT2030 Thursday at reSET, a business incubator with a trendy glasswalled office in Hartford. They mostly stood quietly behind the glass, just over Lamont’s shoulder, watching, with no signs.
Their faces, one topped with a red and yellow “NO TOLLS” hat, floated just over Lamont’s left shoulder, a fitting symbol of the potential derailment the 14 tolls could cause in any
discussion over infrastructure upgrades. A pair of burly men were ushered over to stand in front of the glass to attempt to block the intrusion, though
for some, that may have proven more distracting.
Among the protesters was Hilary Gunn, of Greenwich, wearing the red and yellow hat that she knitted last winter.
“My position remains no tolls,” said Gunn, a regular at tollrelated events, who
works for a nonprofit. She added that once they start, they multiply.
As for the hat, she said she had it drycleaned over the summer. “It’s fresh for the season,” she said.
Lamont, asked whether there were any Republican supporters, quipped that he’s not sure the plan has any supporters at all — but that the state needs to make it happen.
Joe Sculley, president of the Motor Transport Association of CT which represents Connecticutbased trucking companies, also expressed skepticism that any toll would go away once put in place.
“There is nothing in federal law which requires bridge tolls to be removed after the project cost is paid off,” Sculley said. “Accordingly, it is hard to see how the State of Connecticut would enter into a
contract with the federal government that would make the bridge tolls temporary. Because of that, the end result is that Connecticut will be left with an inefficient, selfraising tax in the form of tolls, with no chance of going back.”
But Even House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, who has been one of the most outspoken critics of Lamont’s original plan, said she believes there is common ground to be found in CT2030.
“It is much better thought through than the previous plans, if you can call the previous ones plans,” Klarides said Thursday. “I think there is common ground we can find with the plan that is coming out today ... Unfortunately I do not support a revenue stream coming from tolls. I think that this is a perfect op
portunity to work with the federal government in a positive way with these low interest federal loans. I think that we should focus on that.”
Klarides added that she believes the $21 billion plan is too big for the state to take on in its entirety. Shrinking the goals, she argues, could eliminate the need for tolls.
“We all agree transportation needs to be funded, but I think the two main differences right now is we don’t support a revenue stream coming from tolls and we don’t think $21 billion is affordable. If you take that $21 billion and make it smaller, there are other ways to look at this funding.”
Even with the disagreement over tolls hanging over the discussion on transportation improvements, it seems Lamont’s
second attempt is already off to a better start than the first iteration.
“This is a good plan. This is what was missing the first time through,” said Joe McGee, vice president of the Business Council of Fairfield County, a former state economic development commissioner and strong tolls proponent
“And what’s in here, which is very interesting, is not just the 14 bridges and those projects, but they’ve also gone into the congestion in the towns,” McGee added. “These local projects that address congestion really make the whole system work a lot better. This is a real good piece of work and we’re very proud to support this.”