Sen. Kelly Joins CT Farmers Calling for Repeal of Truck Mileage Tax, Democrat Leaders Say No to Relief

March 24, 2022

Article as it appeared in the CT Post

HARTFORD — Farmers who have been hard-hit by rising costs to the point they are wondering whether they can stay in business, found support from Republicans and at least a few legislative Democrats on Wednesday in attempt to curb Connecticut’s planned highway use tax.

But Speaker of the House Matt Ritter and House Majority Leader Jason Rojas immediately dismissed the idea of repealing all or part of the tax, scheduled to start in 2023, and aimed at heavy trucks from out-of-state.

State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, co-chairwoman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, said it was an unintended consequence of the June, 2021 legislation that the law would place even heavier burdens on companies like Hillandale Farms of Lebanon and Franklin, a multi-state operation with 20 million egg-laying chickens, 20 percent of which are in Connecticut, along with 350 employees.

Ed Hoffman, vice president of Hillandale Farms, told reporters that between 2016 and 2021, the company – the fourth-largest in the nation – invested $120 million to create cage-free environments for the hens, as required by a statewide referendum in Massachusetts, one of the farms’ major markets. The tractor trailers that collect the eggs several times a week would create another major cost to an already-stressed company, he said.

“This is something we consider to be jobs-sustaining,” Osten said, stressing the goal of exempting state farmers after the tax takes effect next January. The per-mile tax rate will be based the on the weight of trucks, ranging from 2.5 cents per mile for vehicles weighing up to 28,000 pounds, to 17.5 cents per mile for vehicles more than 80,000 pounds.

Hoffman and Osten were joined by other farmers, lawmakers including Rep. Maria Horn, D-Salisbury and Rep. Joe Gresko, D-Stratford, co-chairman of the legislative Environment Committee, as well as representatives of the 2,500-member Connecticut Farm Bureau Association.

Immediately after that news conference, in the historic Hall of the Flags in the State Capitol’s first floor, House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora and Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, recalled that last year, they proposed exempting trucks from carrying food from the HUT bill, which is estimated to raise $90 million a year.

“Our farmers need our help,” said Kelly, R-Stratford. “I think this is a no-brainer. We should never have had the HUT.” Candelora, R-North Branford, said the use tax was pushed through the legislature by a “reckless” Democratic majority.

The use tax on agricultural vehicles would raise $25 million a year, but Joseph Sculley, executive director of the Connecticut Motor Transport Association representing state truckers, said it will be very difficult to actually assess the HUT on trucks. “We need a full repeal,” Scully said.

A few minutes later, during a news conference prior to the day’s activities in the House, where legislation to suspend the state’s 25-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax until the end of June was scheduled, Ritter, Rojas and Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, co-chairman of the Finance, Review and Bonding Committee, said the highway tax is more about the next five years, rather than next year, while the state has the luxury of robust surpluses.

“I have no interest in a repeal,” said Ritter, D-Hartford.

“Comparatively to what other states are doing, it costs $125 for a truck to cross the George Washington Bridge one way,” Scanlon said. “Most people who pay this highway user fee to drive across the entire length of the state of Connecticut would pay about 25 cents. What we believe is that this highway user fee is a very affordable way, compared to what every state is doing around us, which is a toll, to collect revenue from out-of-state truck drivers without over-burdening that industry.”