Fixing transportation problems will take revenue

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy unveiled last month four proposals that he said would stabilize the state's transportation fund, ideas that the General Assembly will begin considering soon.

Malloy has proposed an increase in the gas tax by 7 cents, phased in over four years; the implementation of electronic tolling, starting in fiscal year 2023; the addition of a $3 fee on tire purchases; and the diversion of the sales tax on motor vehicles into the transportation fund in fiscal year 2019, rather than fiscal year 2021.

Malloy is putting the onus on the state legislature to determine what it values, said state Rep. Chris Soto, D-New London. The proposed transportation cuts would have a big impact, he said.

"Southeastern Connecticut is the tourism hub of Connecticut and taking steps backwards is not going to do anything to spur growth in our region," he said.

Soto said the cuts are more likely to happen if the legislature doesn't look at new revenue streams for the state's transportation system.

"My colleagues can't have it both ways," he said. "We can't not fund transportation, but then expect our services not to get cut or reduced. This is why this session is going to be critically important to ensure we put our transportation system on a sustainable path through tolls.

"It's part of the solution," Soto added. "It's not the silver bullet."

State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, who sits on the General Assembly's Transportation Committee, said she's looking forward to having a discussion that would restore service as necessary, as well as restore the transportation infrastructure cuts.

She pointed out that all of the states surrounding Connecticut have tolls, which allow the states to have a lower gas tax and generate revenue for their transportation systems. She said she would like to see out-of-state people who use Connecticut's transportation system provide some of the revenue for it.

She said she would like to see more data on Malloy's proposals for taxation revolving around gas tax and tires, adding that she has been looking for ways to lower the gas tax, not increase it.

State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, said he believes the conversation around tolls needs to be had, but he disagrees with the governor's approach of both raising the gas tax and adding tolls. He said tolls shouldn't be added without a thorough study on the projected revenue, costs and potential locations.

"I think all of that needs to be vetted before we make a decision on whether we want to have tolls or not have tolls," he said.

Formica added that he agrees with the governor that it makes sense to accelerate the initiative to direct the tax on new car sales into the transportation fund.

State Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Lyme, ranking member on the Transportation Committee, said he's heard concerns from constituents who rely on the bus or train to get to work, or who enjoy the weekend Shore Line East service to go to New Haven and then on to New York City.

"We really do need to look at DOT's priorities and focus on things that are currently in existence like Shore Line East and the Shoreline Shuttle (the bus between Old Saybrook and Madison), as opposed to plans to expand CTfastrak like the DOT has done and I think is a mistake," he said.

Carney said the proposal to raise the gas tax concerns him, pointing out that Connecticut's gas tax already is higher than other states in the region. He said tolls — if approved — wouldn't be up and running for another four to five years, so they wouldn't make a difference for the current fiscal issue.

In addition to focusing on transportation priorities for taxpayers, he'd also like to see a quicker phase-in of directing revenue from the car tax into the transportation fund.

"The next three months are going to be very important, and there's going to be a lot of ideas," he said.


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