Tolls Return for Consideration

March 7, 2013

During each year’s legislative session, some proposals return again and again for additional consideration. Some bills might have been supported unanimously but simply did not come up for a vote in both chambers before the end of session. Other more controversial bills may have been opposed by a majority of legislators. This year, one such proposal that has returned is the reintroduction of tolls.

Last Monday, members of the Transportation Committee heard from members of the public and other advocates for and against this proposal to reintroduce tolls. In this week’s column, I would like to share some of my thoughts about tolls, the gas tax and the overall state of our transportation infrastructure, which includes countless miles of roads and bridges.

As in previous years, I oppose the reintroduction of tolls for several different reasons. New tolls could interfere with commerce between our state and neighboring states, reduce Connecticut tourism and could even potentially cause other states to implement their own tolls in reaction. They especially impact border towns, such as Enfield and Danbury, for residents who work across the border in Massachusetts or New York. Tolls would also require annual state support for maintenance and upkeep costs, whether they included toll collectors or electronic systems.

Instead, many states rely on gas taxes to fund maintenance and upgrades for transportation infrastructure. Some have made the argument that without gas taxes, our state would need tolls to accomplish the same goal. Unfortunately, tolls are now being discussed by the legislature to be introduced without even a mention of reducing the gas tax burden.

In Connecticut, there are two separate state taxes and one federal tax that increases the cost of purchasing gasoline for consumers. On the state level, there is a flat 25 cent per gallon tax and a gross receipts tax that applies to a certain percentage of the wholesale price of gasoline. In addition, the federal gas tax is 18.4 percent.

Last May, the legislature came together in a bipartisan manner to support legislation that capped the gross receipts tax on motor vehicle fuels when wholesale prices reached $3 per gallon. It passed the Senate by a vote of 36 to 0. While this was a first step toward providing some relief at the gas pump, the tax is set to rise again this summer. Believe it or not, it is scheduled to jump from the current effective tax rate of 7.53 percent to 8.81 percent on July 1, 2013.

Initially, the gas tax was put in place to serve as a source of funding for maintenance and repairs to transportation infrastructure. Since then, state government has raided the Special Transportation Fund on several occasions to cover the cost of daily operating expenses. Last year, the fund saw $70 million removed. This year, the governor’s most recent budget proposal included an additional $74 million transfer from this fund to the General Fund in fiscal year 2014. This means that over $140 million that could have been spent on transportation upgrades was spent elsewhere.

Following last week’s public hearing, members of the Transportation Committee will now have to decide whether to approve the measure and sent it on to another committee or not. Instead of reintroducing tolls, the state should get its spending under control so that we can afford to maintain and operate our current transportation infrastructure of roads, bridges and rail networks.