BERLIN — Voting along party lines, the Town Council has voiced its opposition to tolls.
"Most people in our town, in my opinion, don't want tolls," Republican Councilor Alex Giannone said during a meeting Tuesday in support of an anti-toll resolution. "I believe that people don't want to pay more for driving on our roads and that's where I think this resolution is important.”
The resolution says the implementation of tolls would divert traffic now on the highways to local roads as drivers avoid tolls, impacting safety and property values while forcing the town to spend more on road maintenance.
“The Town Council of the Town of Berlin is opposed to the imposition of tolls and urges the Governor and its elected representatives in the General Assembly to oppose any measure that would impose tolls as an additional burden on the Berlin taxpayers,” the resolution says.
The Council’s three Democrats voiced their opposition, calling the resolution premature given the lack of a concrete plan for tolls before the state legislature. They also criticized the Republican transportation plan Prioritize Progress, which would utilize bonding rather than new revenue to pay for highway repairs.
"How can we be against them if we don't know where they are?” said Democrat Peter Rosso. “If we go with the Republican plan to borrow money, they're going to borrow millions of dollars, all of which the state of Connecticut residents will have to repay.”
She also said tolls would shift some of the burden to out-of-state residents. Fellow Democrat Karen Pagliaro said there have yet to be any studies that show the effect of tolls on roadways in surrounding towns.
The vote made Berlin the latest town to adopt an anti-toll resolution. Wallingford and Cheshire, both with Republican-controlled councils, have passed similar resolutions in recent weeks.
Councils in other towns, including Meriden and Southington, have also seen proposals, but Democratic majorities have blocked votes.
Republican Charles Paonessa said the cost paid by Berlin residents would be higher than the gantry fees, and supermarkets and stores would pass costs to their local customers.
"If it costs more to bring that product to the grocery store, if it costs more to bring that fuel to your home, then that cost is going to be passed onto the consumer," he said.
Republican Deputy Mayor Brenden Luddy said he doesn’t believe the revenue from tolls would end up being used for highway repair and worried about additional tax increases being sought by the state in coming years.
"To me this was a big ruse, it's a big smokescreen and we're not also paying attention to the other tax increases that are coming down the pike. So we're all riled up about tolls, and I'm glad, but I hope we pay attention to everything else that's coming down the road," he said.
Republican State Senator Gennaro Bizzarro echoed that sentiment, saying he doesn’t trust the General Assembly to use new revenue streams for their intended purpose.
"I am adamantly opposed to the implementation of tolls, primarily because it would constitute a brand new revenue stream and, at the risk of alienating some of my newfound colleagues at the capitol, I don't know that I trust anybody up there with a new revenue stream," he said at the start of the Council meeting.
Voters adopted an constitutional “lock box” last November that prevents the legislature from taking funds in the Special Transportation Fund to use for the budget. Republicans, though, worry the language isn’t strong enough to prevent lawmakers from diverting funds before they reach the fund.