Yesterday, Governor-elect Lamont’s transportation policy group, appointed by his transition team, urged him to “set aside a campaign pledge and seek electronic tolling on all vehicles and higher gasoline taxes to fund critical transportation improvements.”
Governor-elect Lamont deserves the thanks of Connecticut’s taxpayers for his commitment to the vital pragmatism that characterized his campaign and that got him narrowly elected. This pragmatism includes promises to leave tax rates alone, preserve the rainy-day fund until the next recession hits, bring the government-worker unions back to the table for real concessions, and restrict tolls to trucks.
Tolls – for anyone, including trucks – would be a mistake. While user fees are usually preferable to generalized taxes, a combination of both is worse than either. That’s particularly true in a situation like Connecticut’s. Our per-mile highway building and maintenance costs are some of the highest in the country, while the administrative costs per mile are the very highest. Until these have been systematically reformed and reduced, not one cent more should flow to the state, either from tolls or from taxes.
And certainly, reversing himself on a campaign pledge would be a mistake for our governor-elect, as well. Governor-elect Lamont cannot claim that during his transition he discovered that Connecticut’s finances are worse than he thought; everyone knows Connecticut’s problems, and their vast extent. And in any case, reneging on these pragmatic campaign promises would make Connecticut’s problems worse, not better.
As fellow Democrat Governor Tom Wolf of once-commercially-mighty but now largely enfeebled Pennsylvania has discovered, tolls are not a magical answer, but a business killer. As Wolf recently admitted Pennsylvania’s tolls are, in fact, “driving away business” from Pennsylvania. That’s something Connecticut simply cannot afford.
Our state is already experiencing a vicious cycle of increasing tax rates, which drive out taxpayer – resulting in a lower tax base, which brings in less revenue, causing the state to raise tax rates again. Wash, rinse, repeat – until Connecticut’s economic vigor has been scrubbed clean away.
Tolls will only speed this process. Connecticut would be grasping for a short-term band aid, knowing full well that the temporary remedy will only temporarily hide the further progress of the illness, and the further deterioration of the patient.
No one will be reassured by promises that Connecticut will keep its tolls light (remember the similar promises about the income tax?!). If the governor-elect follows his policy group’s recommendations and violates his truck-only promise from the get-go, how could any claims about keeping the tolls low be believed, in any case?
What’s more, the same policy group is also urging increased gas taxes, even though Connecticut already has the sixth-highest gas taxes in the country! Governor-elect Lamont’s advisors are urging tax hikes in areas where Connecticut already bears one of the highest burdens in the country! Again, should the governor-elect heed the siren song of tolls-for-all in violation of his promises, it will dramatically undermine any confidence in all his assurances of fiscal restraint.
Another northeastern neighbor, Rhode Island has recently enacted truck-only tolls, and is being sued in federal court on Interstate Commerce Clause grounds. Rather than rushing to cash in on truckers who do business in our state – and the job-creators who rely on them – perhaps it makes more sense to wait until the Rhode Island case has been resolved.
As the governor-elect confronts the difficult task of addressing Connecticut’s fiscal challenges, Yankee Institute urges him and his team to promote pro-growth policies and seek efficiencies that will eliminate wasteful and unnecessary spending: we’re ready to offer suggestions in the Charter for Change we’ve prepared!
We’re rooting for the governor-elect in that effort – and, above all, for Connecticut!