By SUSAN HAIGH
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Gov. Ned Lamont made it clear Thursday he believes tolling cars and trucks is preferable to tolling just trucks, despite offering both options in his budget proposal for lawmakers to consider.
The Democrat told reporters it was the "best long-term solution" for financing Connecticut's transportation needs.
Lamont, who supported only truck tolls during the campaign, said he's been advised by attorneys that Connecticut might not reap an anticipated $200 million a year in revenue from truck-only tolls because of a legal challenge of Rhode Island's truck tolls. He said there's a chance the judge could limit the tolls to only bridges under repair.
"That doesn't really give us enough money really to get started," he said, adding that's why he presented lawmakers with two options. Tolls on both cars and trucks are estimated to eventually generate about $800 million annually.
Lamont appeared Thursday with his budget director and transportation commissioner to stress the need for a reliable revenue stream for transportation projects. In the backdrop was the 50-year-old Interstate 84 viaduct in Hartford, which is costing the state about $20 million a year to maintain but is handling more than three times more traffic than it was designed to accommodate. It's one of many examples of aging transportation infrastructure across the state.
While there's agreement Connecticut's transportation infrastructure needs improvement, Lamont's latest call for wider-reaching tolls has sparked criticism.
"Many of us knew the governor's campaign promises could not be kept but sadly we're still the ones who will have to pay for them," said state Rep. Tim Ackert, R-Coventry.
Don Shubert, president of the Connecticut Construction Industries Association, said he supports Lamont's push for a long-term, dependable user-based funding stream for transportation. The state's transportation fund, currently financed mostly by gas tax receipts, faces solvency problems and Connecticut needs an estimated $2 billion a year over the next 30 years to maintain the current level of services. Connecticut currently spends about $1 billion a year.
"It's the only proposal that we've seen so far that doesn't put 100 percent of that huge cost onto Connecticut taxpayers," he said. "So for that reason alone, we think it's an idea that everybody seriously has to look at."
However, Shubert voiced concern with how Lamont's budget proposal eliminates $250 million in borrowing for transportation that was agreed upon last year. It's part of Lamont's push to limit state borrowing. Shubert said he's also worried about Lamont's plan to end a stop-gap plan instituted last year that diverts tax revenue from car sales to the state's transportation account.
"In the short-term, we may be in big trouble," he said, warning that some projects may have to be put on hold.
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, accused Lamont of "undoing the bipartisan policies" lawmakers adopted to financially stabilize the transportation fund, forcing the state to put needed repairs on hold until tolls are up and running — a process that could take several years.
Lamont's budget chief, Melissa McCaw, said the planned diversion of tax revenue from car sales would create a hole in the state's main spending account and not solve the state's long-term transportation funding challenges.
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