Tolls Proposal Takes a Beating at Bantam Forum [Rep-Am]

January 29, 2020

Article as it appeared in the Waterbury Republican-American

LITCHFIELD – A Democratic proposal calling for trucks-only tolls at 12 locations on state highways struck a nerve during a legislative forum Tuesday at Bantam Borough Hall.

Trucks-only tolls eventually would lead to tolls for all vehicles, Litchfield resident Rick Duffy said.

“Once the Democrats get their way, they’re going to expand it to get their money,” Duffy told the forum, which featured state Sen. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, and state Reps. David T. Wilson, R-Litchfield, and John Piscopo, R-Thomaston, all of whom are opposed to the proposal being pitched by Gov. Ned Lamont and legislative Democratic leaders..

The proposal was released Monday as a 32-page bill that will be presented by the legislature’s transportation committee during a hearing Friday at 1 p.m. in Hartford. It has yet to be determined if the hearing will permit public comment, Miner said.

The proposal calls for tolls on 12 highway bridges, including the Mixmaster on Route 8 and Interstate 84 in Waterbury. Tolls would raise an estimated $180 million annually that would be used to shore up the state’s Special Transportation Fund.

Most of those commenting on the tolls plan Tuesday said they are opposed to it on the basis that state government can’t be trusted to dedicate the revenue from tolls to bridge and road improvements.

“I hear from constituents all the time asking where money from the lottery, fuel tax and other sources goes,” Miner said. “There’s a lack of trust in government and until we regain that trust, it’s going to be hard to do anything.”

Ben Solnit of Morris was the lone voice of support for tolls at the forum.

“I’m pro-tolls because we are the only state in the metropolitan area that doesn’t have them,” he said.

Legislators have been asked to keep next Monday and Tuesday open for a possible special session at which the tolls proposal would be considered. The special session would take place before the start of a scheduled short session Wednesday, which Piscopo said doesn’t make sense.

“Whether you are for or against tolls, this would be a bad way to make policy,” Piscopo said of the prospect of a hearing without public comment and a special session on the eve of the short session. “A special session right before the short session is wrong because it won’t give the public a chance to have a say.”

Democrats, Piscopo said, are “trying to ram (tolls) down our throats.”

“I’m going to work hard to resist it,” he added.

Republican legislators, Wilson said, have offered a viable alternative to tolls that involves tapping $1.2 million from the state’s rainy day fund to pay down pension debt and using the resulting debt service savings for transportation improvements.

“Our proposal would save the same amount the governor is expected to raise,” Miner said.