GOP Proposes a Sound Financial Plan for Transportation Needs

February 10, 2015

Senator Toni Boucher (Wilton), Senator Tony Hwang (Fairfield) and Senate Deputy Minority Leader Kevin Witkos (Simsbury) at the Republicans press conference unveiling a Transportation plan for Connecticut.Senator Toni Boucher (Wilton), Senator Tony Hwang (Fairfield) and Senate Deputy Minority Leader Kevin Witkos (Simsbury) at the Republicans press conference unveiling a Transportation plan for Connecticut.

Hartford, CT – State Senator Toni Boucher (R-Wilton) Ranking Member of the Transportation Committee joined Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano and her Senate colleagues in outlining a comprehensive plan to move Connecticut’s Transportation infrastructure into the next century.

The state must first have a clear vision of its transportation strategy and a responsible way to pay for it without further burdening Connecticut’s taxpayers. We believe this plan goes a long way to accomplishing these goals.

Sen. Boucher said, “Reliability and a safe working infrastructure are a state’s core function. We are in desperate need of better service, replacements, repairs and upgrades to roads, rails, bridges and ports.”

“This initiative will enable the state to appropriately pay for transportation needs without adding to the state budget, without over-burdening families with additional taxes, without implementing tolls, and without relying on the presence of federal funding,” said Sen. Fasano.

The republican plan is a sound financial plan.

Key components of the plan would require the state to:

1) Reserve a set amount of General Obligation Bonds to be used solely for transportation priorities.

2) Preserve current Special Tax Obligation bonds dedicated to transportation.

3) Fill all vacant positions at the Department of Transportation to ensure that the agency can efficiently carry out the state’s needed transportation projects. As of January 1, the DOT is 114 positions below where they were 6 months previously.

4) Re-establish the Transportation Strategy Board (TSB) to work alongside CTDOT to assess proposed projects and identify community needs.

Benefits of the plan include:

  • An annual transportation funding mechanism guaranteeing at least $1 billion annually over the next 30 years
  • No tax increases
  • No tolls
  • A reduction in the current level of state bonding
  • Flexibility in setting transportation priorities
  • A sustainable and predictable funding plan to support future generations

Therefore, in addition to protecting current sources of transportation funding, it is recommended the state make a clear and defined commitment to transportation projects by reserving a set amount of General Obligation Bonds to be used solely for transportation priorities, beginning with a commitment of $441.5 million in fiscal year 2016.

This plan creates a soft bonding cap of $1.75 billion the first year and gradually reduces the cap to $1.6 billion, a significant reduction in bonding compared to the governor’s 2014 G.O. bond total of $1.9 billion. It also reduces the bond cap from the Office of Fiscal Analysis’ projected bond allocations for the first two years. As a result, under the new cap, as estimated by OFA, Connecticut will save in debt service totaling $305 million over the life of the bonds.

“We need to close the loop holes in state statues that protects (lock box) the special transportation funds from further raids that have been used in the past to close budget deficits. This protection can NOT be exclusive to any new proposed revenues such as tolls, but must include gas tax revenues and all other fees, rail fares or department of motor vehicle fees,” added Sen. Boucher.

Boucher as ranking member of transportation committee also supports the following concepts:

  • Provide adequate funding to update the state rail system, including rail bridges by use of state special tax obligation bonds.
  • Require the Commissioners of Transportation and Energy and Environmental Protection to develop an enhanced accident response program.
  • Put the state rail contract out for bid.
  • Improve its important branch lines that have been neglected for years.
  • Obtain state representation on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board overseeing Metro-North rail service.

Noticeably missing from potential revenue sources to fund upgrades in infrastructure are tolls. “Tolls are not something the vast majority of the public supports. And I oppose as there has not been a convincing case made for their reintroduction,” said Sen. Boucher. “The prospect of tolls has revived skepticism among many residents who feel that this is yet another tax.”

“The revenues that some have suggested may not produce enough revenues because of loss of federal funding, lack of compliance with toll technology. And it certainly is unfair to those who would have to use tolls every day to get to work,” added Boucher.

Past attempts to reinstate tolls have taken a torturous route through the legislature, with strong opposition coming from residents on the borders towns in the Greenwich and Danbury areas. Border tolls would have a disproportionate impact on those living in Connecticut towns near New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and who must cross the border to get to work.

Those communities will also suffer from increased congestion due to diversion, as many drivers may cut through local neighborhoods in order to avoid the tolls. We should also remember the tragic Stratford Toll Plaza crash in 1983, which killed six people and consider the possible dangers of reinstating tolls on our highways.

The means to adequately funding our transportation infrastructure should be found by ending the raids on the Special Transportation Fund and ensuring that those monies go where they are most needed.

How to Pay for It?

  • The “normal” DOT capital program provides approximately $600 million annually through Special Tax Obligation Bonds (paid for by license fees, gas tax, etc.)
  • We are proposing to maintain that funding, and add new funding through General Obligation Bonds
  • Would provide at least $1 billion each year for the next 30 years for transportation
  • It would result in a 10 year transportation fund total of approximately $11.3 billion and a 30 year total of $37.4 billion, without any federal funding
  • Saves debt service totaling $305 million over the life of the bonds, as estimated by OFA
  • Working with a soft bond cap of $1.75 billion the first year and gradually reducing the cap to $1.6 billion, this proposal also recommends reserving a contingency fund of $100 million in bonds for the Governor to use at discretion

BACKGROUND: Overview of transportation problems in CT

  • BRIDGES Nearly 1 in 10 bridges in CT in 2013 were found to be structurally deficient, that’s 413 out of 4,218 bridges
  • In January 2014 the Regional Plan Association estimated that the New Haven Line would need $3.6 billion in additional investments through 2020 to address the growing problems and rebuild its aging infrastructure
  • There has been a decline in public expenditures on highway and public transportation infrastructure between 2003 and 2013 including a decline of 10.5% for public transportation and 19% for highways and streets
  • DOT has an estimated $19 billion in unfinished initiatives