Connecticut truck-only tolls nearing vote?

January 8, 2020

Keith Goble

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Discussion is ramping up this week at the Connecticut statehouse as the pursuit of truck-only tolls continues.

Gov. Ned Lamont is hopeful to call to order as soon as this week a special session to approve legislation to place the burden squarely on professional drivers for the state’s road and bridge upkeep.

Legislative Democrats caucused much of Tuesday to determine how close the majority party is to securing votes needed to approve a truck toll bill.

Republican lawmakers are the minority party at the statehouse. They remain steadfast in opposition to any toll plan.

Toll plan

The Democratic governor and his party are advocating for a plan to collect truck tolls on 12 bridges around the state.

Gov. Lamont has been active since taking office to come up with a plan to collect tolls. He initially touted a truck-only toll option before revising his plan to include an all-electronic toll on all highway users.

Late last year, his party’s leaders rejected the governor’s revisions. Instead, Senate Democrats opted to pursue a plan to single out large trucks for new revenue.

The governor quickly backed his party leaders’ call for truck-only tolls. Lamont has since released details of a plan that calls for large trucks to pay an average toll of $8 each way on 12 bridges.

State officials have said the toll plan could generate $180 million annually after municipalities are paid a 5% share of the revenue, starting in fiscal year 2023.

Republican opposition

Connecticut’s minority party has been defiant about the governor’s truck-only toll plan.

Instead of tolls, GOP legislators are calling for tapping the state’s “rainy day” funds to cover transportation costs. Using the state’s budget reserves would allow the state to pay off pension liabilities to free up $130 million annually that could be used for transportation.

Additionally, the party wants to see the Special Transportation Fund overhauled to become more efficient with existing revenues.

Lamont says he is opposed to the Republican plan because it “not only gives (truck drivers) a free pass, it asks Connecticut taxpayers to foot the bill and jeopardize the state’s future by raiding $1.8 billion from the rainy day fund.”

Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano said Democrats do not have the votes to move forward with the truck-only tolls.

“Look. If they had the votes, they’d vote,” Fasano said at a Tuesday news conference. “It’s really simple. If you have the votes, you vote. You don’t have the votes and wait.”

Democrats say it is only a matter of time before they secure the votes necessary for passage at the statehouse.

OOIDA challenges claim about truckers

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is among the truck groups, including the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut, opposed to efforts to single out professional drivers to foot the bill for transportation improvements.

Mike Matousek, OOIDA manager of government affairs, has communicated to Connecticut Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney the Association’s concerns about comments made about many professional drivers “currently paying nothing” to use the state’s roadways.

“We would remind you that Connecticut collects fuel tax and registration revenue from every out-of-state truck for every mile they run on Connecticut highways through apportioned funds from the International Fuel Tax Agreement and the International Registration Plan,” Matousek wrote. “Not only is your statement factually wrong, it also indicates that you know very little about the trucking industry.”

OOIDA encourages elected officials at every level of government “to learn more about the trucking industry before trying to enact laws and regulations that will have a significant impact on the men and women who literally drive our economy.”


Possible stumbling block

The biggest potential roadblock for Connecticut’s toll plan is an ongoing legal challenge that Rhode Island’s truck-only tolls are a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

A federal court last month reversed a lower court decision to dismiss the case brought by the American Trucking Associations. The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit states that Rhode Island must face the challenge that tolls are not taxes in federal court.

Lamont says he is not concerned about the court action.

“This federal circuit court decision, which is not binding in Connecticut, has simply held that truckers may bring their meritless claims in federal court as well as state court,” Lamont said. “I am confident that the legal arguments for truck tolls will prevail.”

More Land Line coverage of news from Connecticut is available.

 

Keith Goble

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.