La­mont vows to keep toll prices low

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Keith M. Pha­neuf

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.

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