Search
Back

Policy Corner: Gov. Ned Lamont’s New Tolls Bill Reveals More Gaps between Empty Promises and Bill-Text Realities

Governor-elect Ned Lamont reacts when speaking to supporters in Hartford, Conn., Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018. Lamont won election Wednesday as Connecticut’s governor, keeping the office in Democratic hands in part by promising to be a “firewall” against the policies of President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill

House Speaker Aresimowicz has dismissed toll opponents and sceptics as “emotional” in their attachment to “perceived details.” But details from a new working draft of the tolls bill that may dominate the final struggle over this issue for 2019 demonstrate that toll opponents have the details right, while Aresimowicz’s and the governor’s camouflage of promises seeks desperately to hide those unpleasant truths.

Just last week, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz dismissed toll opponents as “emotional.” He claimed that they cling unthinkingly to “perceived details” such as that the number of gantries remain unfixed and the amount of revenue actually to be obtained from out-of-staters remains not only undetermined, but undeterminable. 

He did not mention, but could have, opponents’ continuing concerns about the eventual rate of tolls; about whether a state-wide, shared-sacrifice tolling structure will be authorized by the U.S. D.O.T. as promised, and what happens if it isn’t; and how much gross revenue from tolling will be eaten up by costs, which have thus far – by every available historical measure – been radically low-balled. 

These concerns are not just emotional clinging to nonsense, though. They are the rational and clear-eyed implications of everything we know about the federal law and policy controlling Connecticut’s tolling plan and the state’s past patterns and practices in revenue generation, as well as the texts of all previous iterations of tolling bills. 

Gov. Ned Lamont’s new draft toll text, the one that will presumably inform debate in these waning days of the 2019 session, confirms these toll opponents’ fears.   

Consider, for instance, the supposed “promise” about how high tolls rates will go. 

In this draft, the rates will start at 3.5 to 5.72 cents a mile.  After three years, though, they will be free to rise. Their rise will occur not at the discretion of the legislature, which has to report to voters, but will be set by a largely unelected and non-representative commission. The commission would set tolls “at the lowest amount necessary to achieve congestion reduction and to provide sufficient funding to operate the tolled highways.”

But this “restriction” is no restriction at all. Because the only tolling studies undertaken by the state were performed by an expressly interested, pro-tolling organization with a history of overestimating revenues and underestimating costs, on the basis of a statewide tolling plan that is already out the window and never had any hope of receiving federal approval anyway.

We have no idea how high tolls will have to go in order to pay for the state’s highways. We just have every reason to believe, as we’ve discussed in many other pieces this year, that it will be far higher than 4.4 cents per mile. 

We have no idea how high tolls will have to go in order to pay for the state’s highways. We just have every reason to believe, as we’ve discussed in many other pieces this year, that it will be far higher than 4.4 cents per mile. 

Meanwhile, though the state’s toll proponents – including Governor Lamont and Speaker Aresimowicz – have presumed that a small difference in tolling rates will mitigate congestion, evidence from other congestion-cutting programs nationwide have shown differently. Tolls on the I-66 corridor running east/west out of Washington D.C. sometimes approach $40 for a few miles of travel, and oscillate wildly – by comparison to this bill’s sedate projections – all the time. 

In other words, we have every reason to expect that tolls will rapidly rise far beyond the rates currently assured to us, even while our elected officials continue to pretend that the legislation says something – and history predicts something – different than it does. 

Next consider the promise that gas taxes will be cut by one penny a year to “offset” toll rates. 

First, note that these decreases only occur if tolls are raising plenty of money to fund the state’s transportation-construction needs. Does anyone think that this will happen? 

But even if the reductions begin on schedule, by tolls-supporters’ own admission, it would take a 53-cent increase in the gas tax to raise as much revenue as the expect to bring in through tolls they expect tolls. So a penny cut in the gas tax would mean giving us back not quite 2 cents in the first year for every dollar taken from us in tolls, rising to a little over 9 cents after five years – assuming that this “projected tax cut” isn’t taken back by the government, as they always are (including this year, in both the governor’s and the legislature’s budgets).

Taken as a whole, this supposed gas tax relief isn’t an offset; it’s an empty and meaningless talking point. 

Finally, despite Aresimowicz’s claims that 40 percent revenue from out-of-staters is guaranteed, we couldn’t find that guarantee anywhere in the draft.  

Remember, if real, total start up and operational costs end up being higher than real, successful toll collections from out-of-state drivers, then a state tolling system will cost the people of Connecticut more to raise an equivalent amount of money than almost any other tax. And all to give the government a pretext that it did something other than levy another massive tax on the people of Connecticut. All while refusing to cut world-historically high transportation-construction costs.  

What we know so far, then, is that the toll proponents in the administration and the legislature are continuing to talk out of both sides of their mouths: continuing to dismiss valid concerns while writing legislation that will make all of those concerns reality. 

Oh what a tangled web we weave, when we pretend to doubt what others perceive

Policy Corner: The greenest energy we can afford

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (“DEEP”) recently announced a complicated set of rules for a “shared solar” energy pilot program. There’s nothing wrong with the basic idea – allowing people who live where rooftop solar doesn’t make any sense to buy into solar farms. Where it goes wrong is the ...

Read More

Policy Corner: Higher Taxes, Inevitable Consequences (Plastic Bag Edition)

It is a genuine law of economics, because it is a central law of human nature: if you tax something, you get less of it. A necessary corollary: most taxes bring in less revenue than predicted because people modify their behavior to avoid the tax. Connecticut’s elected officials have been ...

Read More

Scott Shepard

(6) Comments

  1. Reid Smith

    June 22, 2019 7:20 pm

    Why can’t these politicians budget like real world. I would like just one of the liberals, actually more than one would be welcome, explain why they refuse to budget as I did in industry. You start with your wish list, prioritize it and submit it to be rolled up at the state level. Requests are compared to anticipated funds available — your wish list is bucked against available funds and this determines what you have to spend.

  2. Bond007

    May 27, 2019 11:24 pm

    Tax and Spend is all the Democrats know how to do and have done for years. Why are we supporting illegal Sanctuary Cities?? People are moving out faster then moving into Connecticut because of Taxes!! With all of Connecticut DMV’s fees we pay and Personal Tax on our Cars. Surely this is enough to keep transportation in check. Why aren’t the Weigh Stations open 24/7 and given back to the State Police who made money for the State of Connecticut catching Truckers who Violate!!

  3. David Adams

    May 27, 2019 1:00 pm

    Until the State addresses it’s wasteful spending it should not be trusted with more of our hard earned money. They shove the needs of the cities down our throats, bailing them out when they fail. They crow about giving sanctuary to illegal aliens, when we honest hard working tax paying citizens don’t want them. The corruption associated with the welfare system is staggering, not to mention the unions, which literally act as money laundering operations for the Democrat Party exclusively. More money is not the answer! Draining the swamp in Hartford, bringing fiscally conservative honest adults into the political cesspool, replacing all the corrupt lawyers who gravitate to “public service” like leeches to blood, THAT would be the place to start. If the Democrat’s shove tolls down our throats, like they do everything else with no thought of the unexpected consequences, our back roads are going to become a war zone – worse than they are now!! And the highways will continue to be congested with the stampede of citizens and businesses moving out of the State.

  4. Bond007

    May 26, 2019 1:09 am

    Stop electing Democrats who always want to Tax and Spend. Stop the Run Away Spending. Make Connecticut Attractive to Attract Business NOT chase it away!!! Keep the Weigh Stations open 24/7 and give it back to the State Police. Stop the Pork Barrel waste at the DMV. Enough of the DMV fees, License renewals, registration,Personal Property Tax, Omissions fees every two years. I have heard that Lamont has some cars registered in Florida, Why??

  5. Steven Lockhart

    May 25, 2019 10:37 am

    no tolls you ass hole ted lamont jerk you idiots of Connecticut voted this moron into office i didn’t he don’t care he needs to be kicked out of office now this state sucks and the democrats are idiots

  6. J.R. Heyel

    May 23, 2019 7:44 am

    Hartford has a revenue problem because it has a spending problem driven by decades of fiscal mismanagement. Countless millions have been admittedly diverted from critical transportation and infrastructure projects to the General fund to pay for a various & sundry of programs and pork barrel waste. Is it any wonder the State is in this financial predicament now and looking to tolls as another “revenue stream” to help bail us out? Tolls are nothing short of highway robbery. As the C.B.I.A. recently opined: “When the State of Connecticut shows some substantive fiscal budget discipline, they will consider tolling to fund needed transportation projects.” Meanwhile, Governor Lamont and Democratic Legislative Leadership need to get their collective act together and stop this tolling madness. Pickpocketing the working class every 6 miles on Connecticut highways is certainly not the answer. Tolls are an extremely regressive form of taxation, hurting the people most who can afford them the least. We can do better frankly.

Leave a Reply to David Adams Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

SIGN UP TO RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER