The General Assembly approved a highway use tax for large trucks under emergency certification following a lengthy debate on the floor of the House of Representatives.
After failing to secure tolls on Connecticut’s highways for all vehicles and then transitioning to a push for tolling only trucks, Gov. Ned Lamont put forward the highway use tax this year as a means to bolster the struggling Special Transportation Fund and secure more federal transportation funding.
Lamont tweeted out that “The Highway User Fee is an infrastructure investment to make Connecticut’s roads and bridges safer, strengthen our growing economy, and provide greater support to public transit.”
“I commend the General Assembly for the bill’s passage and look forward to signing it,” Lamont wrote.
The tax is expected to bring in upwards of $90 million when it is fully up and running in 2024 and is based on the type of truck, the weight of the vehicle and the number of miles it has traveled in the state.
Supporters of the bill say that heavy trucks are responsible for more wear and tear on highways and roads and should remit the tax in order support infrastructure repairs.
Passage of the truck tax came after Lamont’s other proposal for transportation – the Transportation and Climate Initiative program – was abandoned by legislative leaders in an announcement late last week.
However, the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut issued a strongly worded statement in response to passage in the House, warning “Connecticut is never going to see the money predicted for this bill, and this tax scheme will fail.”
MTAC and trucking associations have warned that the tax is difficult to collect and has a low compliance rate.
Arguing in support of the bill on the House floor, Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, said he believed the Department of Revenue Services will be able to enforce the tax and that all taxes, to an extent, rely on individuals and companies voluntarily supplying information.
Republican opponents have been holding rallies over the last two months warning the highway use tax will increase the cost of goods brought into the state from or moved around the state by Connecticut-based trucking companies, a point they hammered on after an amendment was added to the bill that exempts trucks carrying dairy products.
The exemption – which includes some of the heaviest trucks on the road – was brought by Rep. Maria Horn, D-Salisbury, because dairy producers have their prices set by federal guidelines and cannot adjust their prices to meet increased costs associated with the tax.
While Republicans supported the amendment, they used the time to point out that costs will increase for trucking companies and the costs will be passed on to consumers. Democrats argued the cost increases will be minimal.
Joseph Sculley, President of MTAC, said the carve-out for dairy trucks “just goes to show that the truck mileage tax is not actually about damage to the roads, it’s just about money. Lighter weight trucks will be subsidizing heavier trucks that will be exempt from the tax.”
According to the Office of Fiscal Analysis, the tax will generate $45 million in its first year, rising to $90 million in the second year and increasing with inflation thereafter.
During public hearing on the governor’s budget proposal, MTAC submitted testimony including estimated costs of the highway use tax on some in-state trucking companies that ranged from $1,000 for a company with one truck to $1.3 million for Bozzuto’s, a wholesale food distributor based out of Cheshire.
Republicans argued on the floor that the trucking industry was vital during the COVID-19 pandemic and were considered essential employees.
However, past fights over tolling Connecticut’s highways hung over the debate.
“This policy is a shame,” said Rep. Laura Devlin, R-Fairfield. “It has been rescinded by twenty other states because it was unworkable or it never generated the revenue that is promised and that’s what I think is being laid out here so that ultimately it can be expanded to cars as well.”
The Connecticut House Democrats tweeted that “trucks cause extreme wear & tear to our roads. With no means to recoup the cost to fix those roads taxpayers are left to shoulder the burden. HB 6688 will allow for a user fee only on large trucks to that trucking companies pay their fair share to repair & maintain our road.”
The House moved on to approve the $46 billion biennial budget but the budget implementer and the marijuana legalization bill will likely have to be taken up during a special session.