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Area lawmakers weigh-in on looming toll vote

Area lawmakers weigh-in on looming toll vote

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With a debate and vote on the governor's truck-only tolls plan looming, some area lawmakers took differing stances. 

Some lawmakers reiterated their longstanding opposition, while others supported the plan or declined to share their position when asked. 

The leaders of the House and Senate said last week they expect the transportation financing legislation to be finished and made public Tuesday, a milestone that would enable them to schedule a public hearing and finalize a vote count, two of the last tasks necessary before a vote on passage in special session.

But some lawmakers still doubt whether a vote will ultimately be taken on the divisive issue. Lamont’s proposal would establish tolls on tractor-trailers at a dozen highway bridges and is projected to raise about $175 million a year in revenue. 

“I don't even know if we’re planning to vote,” state Rep. Emil “Buddy” Altobello, D-Meriden, said. Altobello declined to say how he planned to vote on the toll plan because “in all likelihood, it’s going to change again.”

“I don’t wish to prejudge anything. I’ll have to wait and see,” he said. 

In February, Lamont proposed a comprehensive system of tolls on cars and trucks at more than 50 locations on Interstates 84, 91 and 95, as well as the Merritt and Wilbur Cross parkways. It would have raised as much as $800 million annually. When lawmakers refused to bring the measure to a vote, the administration countered with a downsized version of tolls on cars and trucks on 13 bridges. Legislative leaders could not find the votes for passage, leading to the current version of tolling only tractor trailers.

In light of a pending legal battle between the trucking industry and the state of Rhode Island over a similar trucks-only toll system, State Rep. Liz Linehan fears Connecticut would fall “years behind” in figuring out how to fund transportation infrastructure if it enters into a similar conflict. 

“Even if this bill does pass without my vote, I will be making sure the governor and other legislative leaders don’t stop looking at other forms of funding,” said Linehan, D-Cheshire.

Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, argued the state has yet to prove tolls are needed to fund future transportation maintenance. Sampson first wants independent, itemized cost projections for each project tolls will fund. 

“I have nothing to tell me that we actually need a large sum of money to fund our transportation maintenance and infrastructure,” Sampson said. 

Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, noted about half of the projected $19 billion in revenue will be generated by out-of-state trucks. The new proposal, she said, is more favorable for her district because it does not place any toll gantries along Interstate 91 and the Merritt Parkway, both of which run through the 85th District located entirely in Wallingford. 

“It doesn’t raise as much money, and we won't be able to repair as many things, but it's a start, and we do know that the existing transportation fund is running out of money,” said Mushinsky, who plans to vote in favor. 

With a close vote expected in the 36-member Senate, Lt. Gov Susan Bysiewicz said last week that she is prepared to cast the deciding vote in favor of the plan, Heart Media reported. Four of the Senate’s 22 Democrats are believed to be opposed to the tolls plan: Julie Kushner of Danbury, Mae Flexer of Killingly, Joan Hartley of Waterbury and Alex Bergstein of Greenwich, according to Hearst. If those four Democrats vote nay vote along with the Senate’s 14 Republicans, it would result in an 18-18 tie. 

Sen. Mary Daugherty Abrams, D-Meriden, didn’t return a request for comment on her position Monday. 

Information from the Connecticut Mirror was used in this report. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story included an inaccurate revenue projection for the governor's proposed toll plan. The error has been corrected.

Twitter: @MatthewZabierek

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