Connecticut lawmakers send truck tax to governor

June 9, 2021

Keith Goble

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The Connecticut General Assembly made quick work Tuesday to approve a bill to tap truckers to raise transportation revenue.

Legislators picked up pursuit of a truck tax on the heels of a decision at the statehouse late last week to back down from pursuit of a plan to aid transportation work and limit emissions from road, rail and air sources.

Highway use tax

Attention at the statehouse for how to boost transportation funding then quickly turned to truck drivers.

Facing a midweek adjournment for the year, an emergency bill was filed Sunday to impose a highway user fee, or tax, on Class 8 through 13 trucks. It took the Democrat-led legislature one day to zip the bill through both chambers on largely partisan votes.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Will Haskell said it is time to stop giving trucking operations a “free ride” in Connecticut.

“Some may ask why impose a fee on trucks,” Haskell, D-Westport, said on the Senate floor. “Because at this moment Connecticut taxpayers are subsidizing the tremendous wear and tear that large tractor-trailers have on our highways.”

Proposed by Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, the bill establishes a series of fees based on truck size and weight. HB6688 now heads to the governor’s desk.

Starting Jan. 1, 2023, tax rates would increase incrementally for trucks starting at 26,000 pounds. Specifically, rates would range from 2.5 cents per mile for trucks with a gross weight of 26,000 pounds to 10 cents per mile for trucks weighing 80,000 pounds.

Trucks weighing more than 80,000 pounds would pay 17.5 cents per mile.

An exception would be made for milk haulers traveling to or from a dairy farm.

The state’s Office of Fiscal Analysis estimates revenue from the tax at $90 million annually.

‘Easy target’

OOIDA Director of State Legislative Affairs Mike Matousek said it is not a surprise that Connecticut legislative leaders are singling out truck drivers.

“This is yet another effort by Gov. Lamont and his anti-trucking allies to raid the bank accounts of some of the hardest working people on the planet,” Matousek said. “Big trucks – especially out-of-state trucks – make for an easy target and elected officials have picked up on that.”

As an industry, we need to figure out a way to change that dynamic and hold lawmakers more accountable for their bad decisions.”

Truckers in the state say that out-of-state operations will avoid travel in Connecticut. In-state businesses will be left to pay the tax.

Critics add that truck fees will result in additional costs for all consumers. As a result, the state’s economy will suffer.

Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly of Stratford said the truck tax is a bad look for the state.

“The very people we praised as frontline essential workers during the pandemic, who went above and beyond to transport necessities to us when we could not go very far ourselves, would be the target of this tax,” Kelly said during Senate floor discussion. “And the tax will be passed on to our families.”

More road money

A proposed change to the bill called for tapping existing revenue for transportation use instead of a new truck tax.

The Republican-led provision called for $245 million annually to be transferred from the state’s general fund to the Special Transportation Fund. The money comes from the state’s 6.35% general sales tax on vehicle repairs, any vehicle part and transportation service.

The revision was rejected on the House floor.

Transportation Climate Initiative

The decision to press forward with a truck tax came days after legislative leaders backed away from a regional climate plan to aid transportation.

Late last year, Gov. Ned Lamont, along with governors in Massachusetts and Rhode Island and the mayor of Washington, D.C., signed a memorandum of understanding stating their intention to bolster transportation funding and reduce emissions.

Each participating state is responsible for approving the final tax plan. The expectation is fuel costs could initially increase anywhere from 5 to 17 cents per gallon.

Dubbed the Transportation and Climate Initiative, the regional climate pact requires large gasoline and diesel suppliers to buy what are called “allowances” in a cap-and-trade plan. Essentially, companies would be limited to how much carbon dioxide they could emit. After reaching its cap, a company could pay the government a certain amount of money to go beyond that limit. Allowances that a company could purchase would decline each year.

Try again later?

Earlier this spring, legislation introduced at the Connecticut statehouse called for formally joining the regional climate pact.

Critics, including statehouse Republicans, have since voiced concern about the program essentially being a fuel tax increase that would burden road users and business owners.

Supporters said late last week that criticism of the program amounts to fearmongering. They painted the program as the future of transportation funding.

Lamont decided on Friday, June 4, to abandon the pursuit of the plan.

Senate Democrats said the issue could be brought back for consideration during the 2022 regular session. LL

More Land Line coverage of news from Connecticut.

 

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Keith Goble has been covering trucking-related laws since 2000. His daily web reports, radio news and “OOIDA’s State Watch” in Land Line Magazine are the industry’s premier sources for information regarding state legislative affairs.