Crit­ics praise gov­er­nor’s plan — ex­cept the tolls

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Kait­lyn Kras­selt

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.”

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