NO TO TOLLS
During the election campaign, Gov Lamont and Lt Gov Bysiwiecz proposed tolling only trucks. Soon after being in office, they declared that this plan would not raise enough money for transportation projects. Their next proposal was to toll all vehicles at fifty tolling gantries. Lamont spoke in Chicken Little terms that the sky would fall if billions of dollars were not raised to fund these projects. Facing a public backlash, their next proposal scaled back tolling to fourteen bridges, with the money raised going for repairs at those bridges. As more pressure mounted, Lamont, Bysiweicz, and the Democratic majority are back to a truck-only toll plan. That would raise less money than proposed previously. What happened to the need for a large amount of money for many transportation projects they said the state needed? Did they disappear?
Now, they no longer like to speak the word “tolls”, but rather, talk about “quality of life” for commuters, driver “user fees”, and economic growth “investments”. Changing the name of something does not change what it is. Are you fooled? No. Once tolls are created, even in a limited or temporary form, it can be immortalized, expanded, and increased. For example, the Mass Pike was built using tolls to pay off the initial construction bonds. The bonds were paid. The tolls remained.
That is why people continue to say “NO TO TOLLS”.
A cogent, consistent message about tolls has not been presented to the people of Connecticut. Lamont himself said on November 12th, “I think I should do some town meetings … I think I ought to do it pretty soon”. So far, no town meetings, just a call to hold a special legislative session quickly, an idea supported by Speaker Aresimowicz and Senate President Looney. Evidently there is no need to talk with people about it beforehand, because, once tolls are in, it is easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.
Trying to gain political leverage, Lamont is withholding money for local road aid, which is needed for things like snowplowing. Is it OK to deny towns promised money in order to get tolls? This seems like a “quid pro quo” situation.
During the election campaign, it was pointed out that Rhode Island’s truck tolling plan was under legal challenge. What do we find out now, soon after a belly dive back to truck-only tolling plans in Connecticut? The First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals allowed going forward a lawsuit against Rhode Island’s truck-only tolls. The claim is that the state plan is discriminatory by not creating a fair tolling program for all vehicles. If the lawsuit prevails, then Connecticut’s truck-only tolling program either must stop or be broadened to everyone. Connecticut would likely expand the tolls across the board, not end the tolls.
Additionally, as if tolling is not enough of a tax increase, ideas are being floated for Connecticut to participate in a new, regional gas tax. We already pay three separate taxes on each gallon of gas and diesel: federal, state retail, and state wholesale. Now a fourth tax on top of tolls!
If Lamont, Bysiweicz, and the Democratic majority care so much about repairing roads and bridges, and talk so much about a transportation “crisis”, then why has the Democratic majority raided and diverted $821 million from the Special Transportation Fund going back to 2011? The STF was created specifically for transportation projects. Taking money away from the STF shortchanges it irresponsibly and creates an artificial “crisis” by which to call for tolls.
State government has a systemic and systematic problem with spending. Where did the $2.7 billion tax increases (2011 and 2015) go? Where will this year’s $1.7 billion tax increases go? The state’s budget is already out of balance. A continuous and confusing reliance on raising taxes makes no common sense.
The more taxes, tolls, and fees enacted, the more it squeezes hard working people and job-creating businesses. It is like a frog being slowly boiled alive. The frog does not notice the gradual change until it is too late to jump out of the pot. People are noticing now, however.
Connecticut’s economic growth has lagged behind the national average and our neighbors. Government does best raising revenue when it has a strong economy with people earning good wages and businesses increasing sales and assets, all contributing taxes through a modest and reasonable taxation system. Government does worst when it focuses with abandon on tax increases despite the consequences and without regard to spending.
We need a new way of doing things. Part of this is to keep saying “NO TO TOLLS”.
Jeffrey A. Gordon, M.D.