Sen.-elect Champagne: “Whatever tax we put on trucks is going to trickle down to us.”

January 10, 2019

Article as it appeared in the Journal Inquirer

Some area legislators are supportive of Gov.-elect Ned Lamont’s proposals to pass paid family medical leave and increase the minimum wage, but skepticism still remain regarding tolls.

Lamont continues to assert that he will establish electronic tolling for tractor-trailer trucks only despite questions about its legality.

Rep. Timothy Ackert, R-Coventry, said that in order to gain his support, the Department of Transportation must open its financial ledgers to show that additional money is required and existing funds aren’t just being misspent.

“That’s what you’re going to have to prove to me,” he said, adding that he would “absolutely not” support tolls without that information.

Lamont’s proposal to toll only trucks, Ackert said, could provide revenue to the state, but also likely would result in higher costs for products.

“At this point, it’s a hard sell,” he said.

Sen.-elect Daniel Champagne, R-Vernon, agreed, saying that “whatever tax we put on those trucks is going to trickle down to us.”

Rep. Michael Winkler, D-Vernon, said he is in favor of establishing tolls, but “tolls on truckers alone aren’t going to solve the problem” with funding the state’s transportation projects.

Citing a recent Department of Transportation report, he said that tolling all cars would place 40 percent of the burden on out-of-state motorists, rather than Connecticut drivers picking up 100 percent of the cost to repair and maintain transportation infrastructure.

“I don’t think truckers are a protected class,” Winkler added.

Currey said he has been a supporter of tolls, but the specifics of the bill, including potential changes to the gas tax and the adequacy of the transportation funding lock box, would determine whether he supports passage.

He said the legislature should give Lamont the courtesy of examining whether truck-only tolls are a viable option.

If not, Currey would be willing to have a broader conversation, he said.

Legislators also are likely to pursue paid family medical leave after it failed to pass last session, when the proposal was to have employees pay a nominal percentage of their salary into a fund designated for paid leave.

There would be, however, a substantial initial investment to fund startup costs.

Winkler said he would support legislation similar to last year, despite his objection that workers would be paying for their own benefits.

The proposal would depend on how the program is funded and how state agencies would be able to absorb additional staffing, Currey said.

Ackert, a small business owner, said the measure would place an undue burden on businesses, which would be forced to hire another person while someone is on leave.

“I definitely don’t have the revenue to stay in business” if paid family medical leave becomes law, he said, adding that it would deter businesses from coming into Connecticut.

Although he said he would have to see the final language of a bill, Champagne said he is concerned about the impact paid leave could have on small businesses, how the program would be funded, and whether the state could afford it.

Winkler said he supports an incremental increase to the state’s minimum wage to bring it to $15 per hour over the next five years. With every business facing the same increase at the same time, employers would remain on a level playing field.

“We have to be able to provide a living wage,” Currey said, noting Connecticut’s high cost of living. “We have to be able to support our working middle class.”

Ackert said the minimum wage should coincide with the cost of living, saying a $15 wage is arbitrary.

Entry-level jobs, he said, should be for people learning the ropes and not a career, adding that an increase could lead to job losses.
“If raising the minimum wage creates one job, just one job, I would support it,” Ackert said.

Champagne said he’s spoken to farmers and small business owners who are adamant in their opposition to a minimum wage increase.

He added that Vernon’s summer programs, which employ mainly high school students, could be adversely affected.