Lamont vows to keep toll prices low
As Gov. Ned Lamont tries to convince lawmakers that tolls would remain fixed at a modest price for at least a decade, his own history is working against him.
Yes, Lamont alienated voters and lawmakers by going back on his campaign pledge not to impose tolls on any vehicles other than large trucks, but the trust problem is bigger than that.
Lamont’s plan to keep tolls as low as 40 cents per gantry hinges on a complementary move: shifting hundreds of millions of dollars in sales tax receipts into the transportation system.
But just last June, Lamont and his fellow Democrats in the legislature blocked a major infusion of sales tax revenues earmarked for the Special Transportation Fund. This was done despite a new constitutional “lockbox” provision specifically created to prevent such a move.
That has left Republican legislative leaders asking why they should believe Lamont won’t divert those tax receipts a second time — especially if the economy tanks in a year or two — and simply boost tolls to make up the difference.
“This is not personal, but this is a question of trust,” said House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, RDerby, a staunch opponent of tolls. “He raided the Special Transportation Fund in his budget and did a runaround the constitutional lockbox. And now he’s claiming he’s going to put the money back in two years? What makes anybody think he’s not going to do the same thing again?”
“The biggest problem with their concept is the lack of trust in government,” said Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, RNorth Haven.
This mistrust is misplaced, said Lamont’s communications director.
“The only thing more
important to the governor than delivering those benefits is his word,” said Max Reiss.
Under the governor’s new plan, passenger car tolls of 50 cents to $1 would be charged on 14 bridges, with 20 percent discounts for Connecticut drivers with EZPass transponders, dropping the cost to 40 cents or 80 cents, depending on the time of day.
Heavy trucks would pay between $3.50 and $7, less with a Connecticut EZPass.
Lamont also insists he can provide new legal protections to ensure these prices remain fixed through at least 2030.
Connecticut would write into the loan agreement with the federal government that toll rates would not change until the borrowed funds have been paid off, Lamont said. This would essentially lock them in contract through the late 2040s — when the loans are projected to be fully paid.
Both Fasano and Klarides said they need to research further how secure this professed safeguard is, and whether future legislatures or governors might have options to raise toll rates.