Malloy's $10 million toll study facing opposition, concerns
HARTFORD — Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is getting strong political pushback for what will likely be one of his final executive orders — a plan to spend $10 million on a study of electronic highway tolls across Connecticut.
Republican state legislators have balked at the idea, calling it a waste of taxpayer money. GOP gubernatorial candidates are making it a campaign issue. And now the Connecticut American Civil Liberties Union, which is not taking a position on tolling itself, is raising concerns about the privacy of an electronic system.
Malloy is not backing down, saying it makes sense to assess the state's options for ensuring Connecticut's roads and bridges are in good repair. In five years, the state's Special Transportation Fund is not expected to have enough money for such projects.
The State Bond Commission, which Malloy chairs, is scheduled to vote Wednesday on the funding.
A look at where things stand in the continuing debate over tolls:
With less than six months left in his final term, Malloy last week ordered state agencies to assess tolling on Interstates 95, 91, 84, the Wilbur Cross Parkway, the Merritt Parkway and possibly other limited access highways. The General Assembly failed to pass such a study last session. Malloy claimed the information will be "invaluable" to the next administration.
Malloy has argued Connecticut needs a new funding mechanism to pay for transportation considering how the transportation fund will become insolvent as vehicles become more fuel efficient and the state's gasoline tax subsequently generates less revenue. Some legislative Democrats, including House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, have supported a study. But many Republicans have staunchly opposed one, never mind tolls in general.
At least one top Democrat has said he won't vote Wednesday to release the $10 million in bonding.
State Comptroller Kevin Lembo, a state Bond Commission member, said he doesn't believe the commission should finance the study without a legislative directive. He argued it should be up to the next administration to decide whether to move forward with the idea.
House Republicans called on Malloy to remove the item from the agenda. He chairs the 10-member panel, which includes all Democrats and appointees, except for two Republican lawmakers.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides and GOP Rep. Chris Davis sent a letter to Malloy, warning they're collecting signatures for a petition to bring the legislature into special session if the commission approves the funding. They're hoping enough Democrats will support a bill preventing the money from being spent.
Responding to the criticism, Malloy spokesman Leigh Appleby argued that residents widely agree Connecticut must improve its crumbling infrastructure and the study is a "commonsense means of assessing our options and ensuring we can bring our roads, bridges, tunnels and rails into a state of good repair." He accused Republicans of trying to score political points, arguing they have no plan of their own.
Amid the debate over whether it makes sense to spend $10 million on a study, the Connecticut ACLU is raising concerns about whether it makes sense to enable the government to track where people's driving habits.
Executive Director David McGuire sent a letter to Department of Transportation Commission James Redeker, imploring him to include specific privacy protections in any electronic tolling recommendations ultimately presented to the General Assembly. McGuire said if Connecticut ultimately agrees to allow tolling, it will likely use automatic license plate readers, which are cameras that can scan and record thousands of license plates per minute. Besides capturing an image of the plate, he said the technology also tags the time, date and GPS location of the photograph.
"It can't be understated how big a privacy threat this is," said McGuire, who has suggested prohibiting the data from being shared with other entities and allowing the data to be kept for only short amounts of time for billing purposes. He noted that allowing such data to be retained would "open the door to retroactive government surveillance of innocent people without a warrant, without probable cause, and without any form of judicial oversight."
Appleby said privacy is one of the areas that will be studied and considered by the legislature before any electronic tolling system is implemented.
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