Sen. Murphy proposes increasing gas tax, Sen. Fasano wants to see money spent wisely [The New Haven Register]

June 9, 2014

By Kristin Stoller, The New Haven Register

NEW HAVEN >> Standing in front of one of Connecticut’s 406 structurally deficient bridges Friday, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, (D-CT) announced his proposal to increase the federal gas tax.

The gas tax hike would increase the funds available to repair and replace critical infrastructure around the country.

Murphy was joined by members of local chambers of commerce, labor groups, representatives from workforce programs and transportation and environmental advocates at the Interstate 91 bridge over the Quinnipiac River. The bridge is scheduled to be replaced in 2017 using $13 million in federal funds.

Murphy said he is proposing 6-cent-per-gallon increases in 2015 and 2016. He said the increase would raise the gas tax up to what inflation would have brought it up to after 20 years — an increase of 12 cents.

The senator said the federal gas tax has not been updated in more than 20 years. The gas tax finances a federal infrastructure fund used to make improvements to roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure.

“For 20 years, Congress has had its head in the sand, pretending that money is going to fall off trees for infrastructure,” Murphy said. “It’s time to stop pretending.”

Federal funding provides more than half of Connecticut’s transportation spending, he said.

A 2013 report by Transportation for America found that 406 of the 4,196 bridges in the state are structurally deficient. Connecticut ranks 27th in the country in bridges in need of significant maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement, according to the report. About 66,500 bridges nationwide are structurally deficient, the organization said last year.

Murphy’s conference came after Thursday’s train bridge malfunction in Norwalk, which caused delays for hours on Metro-North’s New Haven Line.

The 117-year-old Walk Bridge, which rotates to allow large boats on the Norwalk River to pass, failed to close just after 4 a.m. It was fixed shortly after 9 a.m., after causing problems for commuters across the region during the busy rush hour.

“For Connecticut commuters and taxpayers, the failure of the Norwalk bridge should be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” Murphy said.

State Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, in a statement, said transportation infrastructure should be safer. Fasano, however, wants to see money spent wisely.

“Before we talk about raising the gas tax, shouldn’t we first make sure that Connecticut gas tax revenues are going where they should be going?” Fasano said. “Before we hit consumers (with) another regressive tax which will have a severe impact on low-income families, shouldn’t we make sure all of the existing dedicated revenue is being used to improve our transportation system?”

Though Murphy said tax increases aren’t talked about because they are politically risky, his proposal would also create 500,000 jobs. Construction unemployment hovers at about 30 percent, he said.

And for every dollar Connecticut pays in federal gas taxes, the state will receive $1.68 back, getting “much more than we send to Washington,” Murphy said.

“This has always been a bipartisan issue,” he said. “Republican and Democratic presidents increase the gas tax.”

The Senate will discuss gas tax updates this summer, and Murphy said that is when he will formally bring up his proposal.

Bruce Lydem, regional manager of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, said Murphy’s proposal shows leadership on a national level. Lydem, of Bristol, said the increase is necessary because the infrastructure is of great concern to him.

“As my members and family travel the state of Connecticut, they see these bridges are in bad shape,” he said. “God forbid these bridges give out and you have an unfortunate incident.”

As any citizen, Tim Sullivan of the Carpenters Union said he isn’t crazy about tax increases. However, Murphy’s proposal is something he would support because of how much of a problem the infrastructure is, he said.

“I drive on I-95 down to Fairfield county and it’s a mess,” Sullivan, of New Haven, said. “I’ve taken the railroad and gotten stuck on the train.”

He said these infrastructure problems limit his employment opportunities, specifically because he can’t safely and efficiently commute to New York City.