When it comes to tolls, slow down!
Published in THE DAY - February 03. 2019 12:01AM
There may come a time when tolls make sense for Connecticut , but before we do that we need to take a couple of steps back. Bills have been introduced in the legislature that propose as many as 82 toll gantries around the state. It’s time for a serious conversation and a slower, more measured, approach.
First, let’s use what is currently earmarked for transportation; second, let’s make sure that what is spent on transportation has the highest and best economic value; third, let’s find a way to spend what we have more efficiently; and, fourth, let's modernize and optimize our existing revenue streams so we don’t have to further tax our residents.
Connecticut must prioritize projects that have the most economic benefit for our state. If we reprioritize our current transportation spending, we do not need toll revenue.
How much money am I talking about? In 2017, the state generated $238 million from its gross receipt’s gas tax and another $500 million from its flat tax of 25 cents per gallon of gas. These two taxes combine to make gas taxes in Connecticut among the highest in the country.
In addition, Connecticut was apportioned $526 million from the federal government for maintaining our interstates, ranking us well above the national average per person and almost 50 percent more per person than Massachusetts or New York per capita. So, without tolls, we already have more than $1 billion to work with.
Taxing trucks via tolling is being proposed by the Lamont administration, which doesn’t make any financial sense. We would most likely lose a significant percentage of the revenue we already receive from the federal government for not having tolls. Research says that just taxing trucks will only generate approximately $200 million and cost us roughly $500 million to build and $100 million to operate the tolls. So where is the financial sense, let alone a windfall?
If applied to all motorists, however, tolls could eventually generate an estimated $1 billion annually. The tolls would cost an estimated $500 million to build and the construction project is anticipated to take five years to complete. We all know from experience that the cost will most likely double and it will take twice as long to complete.
In November, voters overwhelmingly approved a transportation lock box to ensure that all that money will go toward solving our transportation problems (although some members of the legislature admitted on the record that, in any given year, the legislature can still find ways to divert transportation funds).
Either tolling plan — to collect tolls on only trucks on interstates and to collect tolls on everyone − has big problems, not the least of which is that the state could potentially lose federal infrastructure money it receives because it does not have tolls.
Call tolling whatever you want, but it amounts to a $600 million to $700 million tax increase. Perhaps U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) put it best with his recent reaction to President Trump’s proposal to lift prohibitions on the tolling of interstates.
“The middle class need not ask for whom this bill tolls, it tolls for thee,” said Schumer. “They don’t need higher local taxes and Trump tolls on top of all that.”
Connecticut residents have yet to see any true business plan as it relates to tolls; just promises of riches. Revenue from tolls around the country is offset by high debt, construction expense and bloated union administrative costs. On top of that, toll money would come out of our pockets at a time when Connecticut residents can least afford it. We are expected to pay 60 to 70 percent of the cost of a tolls project.
All we keep hearing out of Hartford is more tax and spend rather than holistically looking at all our state’s problems. Tolls may need to be a part of the solution, but unless we slow down and really look at all the ways to save money and generate revenue, it is just another patch placed on our bleeding fiscal wound. It's lazy. A holistic, well thought out state business plan would not just include revenue, but our bloated expenses and unfunded liabilities.