Why is your tax $$ being spent to “study” this?

January 30, 2017

Bill proposed by Meriden senator would de-fund mileage tax study

By Mike Savino
Meriden Record-Journal

A bill to defund the state’s participation in a federal study into a mileage-based tax is set for a public hearing Monday.

Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden, who proposed the bill after making the study a focal point of his campaign, wants to instead use the $300,000 set aside for the study to continue funding rifle salutes at funerals for military veterans.

The bill is one of several going to a public hearing before the legislature’s Transportation Committee at 11 a.m. Monday in the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

While Democratic leaders in the legislature have voiced opposition to a mileage tax since a panel first examined the idea in 2015, Suzio said he’s concerned the tax could still be implemented unless lawmakers move to stop it.

“I think it’s a very real threat because the old saying is actions speak louder than words,” he said.

Senate Democrats voted against a Republican amendment last year to preemptively block a mileage tax.

Democrats accused Suzio of relying on “alternative facts” when proposing the bill though, and Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, maintained that a mileage tax would never get through the legislature.
“The truth is that Democrats in the Senate have been and continue to be strongly opposed to any mileage tax, and will not bring such a proposal up for a vote,” Looney said in a statement. Connecticut has agreed to spend $300,000 to participate in a federal study on how a mileage tax would be implemented, along with Vermont, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. But Connecticut is committing the largest payment of any of the participants.

The study is still in the planning phase and a consultant is expected to begin work in March, the state Department of Transportation said this week.

Suzio questions why the state would commit the funding to study a tax despite repeated statements in opposition.

He said the intent is to find a way to build support for the idea.

“I think the governor thinks that Connecticut citizens were born yesterday,” he said.

Chris Collibee, a spokesman for Malloy, said the governor is simply reviewing options to fund his 30-year, $100 billion transportation initiative, and that “studying an issue doesn’t equate to endorsing it.”

Collibee said in a statement that “unlike Sen. Suzio, this administration isn’t afraid of gathering information or making informed decisions, especially when it comes to fixing Connecticut’s broken transportation infrastructure.”

Suzio said he doesn’t think the state needs to find any additional sources of funding for infrastructure projects, so long as it uses all the income from current streams for transportation needs.

“As far as I’m concerned, the tax structure would be and could be enough,” he said.

The last transfer from the state’s Special Transportation Fund to General Fund came in 2014, a $76.5 million sweep approved by Malloy. Last spring, Malloy and Democratic lawmakers approved a budget adjustment that diverted $50 million in sales tax revenues — 0.5 percent goes to the Special Transportation Fund — to help balance a $960 million deficit.

Benjamin Barnes, Malloy’s budget chief, says the fund is already losing money, though, telling Comptroller Kevin Lembo in a recent letter that it’s on course for a $17.1 million deficit this fiscal year.
He has repeatedly said that the fund isn’t keeping up with expenses as gasoline consumption has dropped in recent years because of increased vehicle fuel efficiency, while gas prices remain well below record highs in 2008.
Suzio instead wants to use the $300,000 in funding committed to the study for military funeral services.

Connecticut is one of only a handful of states to fund services beyond what is provided by the federal government, and Suzio said that should continue.

“Spending always boils down to: ‘What are your priorities?’ — and to me honoring the men and women who served our country…they deserve a priority in our budget,” he said.

Collibee said Suzio’s representation is just “alternative facts” — the proposal to cut $330,000 from honor guard services was in response to a request from Malloy’s budget office to detail how each state agency would handle a 10 percent budget cut.

Looney echoed the sentiment, saying Suzio “clearly demonstrated that the facts weren’t important to him as a candidate and nothing has changed now that he is in the Senate.”

“His attempt to generate hysteria in order to grab some publicity is indicative of the conspiracy theory-fueled, alternative-fact, fake news universe which he continues to exploit,” Looney added.

Democrats criticized Suzio in November for a campaign mailer accusing his opponent, Dante Bartolomeo, of “working behind closed doors” with Malloy to pass the mileage tax, saying he distorted her record.

When asked for evidence, a campaign advisor pointed to her vote against the Republican amendment to block the mileage tax.