Letter: Tolls will make state less attractive to employers, prospective residents

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To the editor,

There are certain core functions of government that most can agree on — education; public safety; social services for children, seniors, the disabled and veterans; and transportation, for example. We create special taxes and fees to support these entities because we know they will benefit Connecticut as a whole. From that logic came the Special Transportation Fund (STF) —the account used to pay for major repairs and improvements. Unfortunately, the majority party has raided the STF year-after-year to offset its lavish spending habits. Here is a brief timeline leading to the current situation.

In May, 2018, Republicans and Democrats came together to fund transportation projects without relying on tolls. We did this by sending revenue from the existing new car sales tax to the STF.

In November, 2018, Connecticut voters overwhelmingly supported the “transportation lockbox.” This prevented the governor and General Assembly from raiding the STF in the future. Unfortunately, the Democrats found a loophole. While they could not take money directly out of the fund, they could swipe it before it even reached the account. The Democrats’ latest budget did just that.

In June of 2019, majority Democrats voted to divert about $171 million from the STF to the general fund as part of the new state budget. By doing this, Democrats effectively abandoned the 2018 agreement, “paving the way” for tolls.

As state representative, I value my constituent’s opinion and rely on their input as we navigate this critical issue. Recently, I asked for feedback on the governor’s latest push for trucks-only tolls. Here are the results: 51% oppose tolls of any kind, 26.5% oppose Gov. Lamont’s truck-only proposal, 6.5% support the governor’s plan, and 16% offered a different perspective.

In their comments, several referenced the ongoing legal challenge in Rhode Island where trucking companies are suing the state for its trucks-only toll platform. If Rhode Island loses the case, it could be forced to dismantle the toll gantries, or expand the user fee to all motor vehicles. The latter, in my opinion, is the more likely outcome.

Currently, Connecticut does not have tolls, and I see this as an economic advantage. We must beware of the governor’s current proposal of trucks-only tolls because tolling trucks means tolling everyone, residents and small businesses alike. Think about it, if we tax the trucks delivering fuel to our gas stations, the added expense will surely be felt at the pumps. With the installation of tolls, our state will become less attractive to employers and prospective residents who are already concerned about Connecticut’s high cost of living and burdensome policies. This is the wrong message to send as job creators look elsewhere, and as our population declines.

To those who took the survey, thank you. I have heard it loud and clear. We all agree there is an urgent need to modernize our highways, bridges and rail system, and that need is recognized on both sides of the aisle and we can get it done with the funding mechanisms already in place. With that said, I cannot support any tolls proposal because we have been down this road before and it does not work. For almost every attempt our legislature has made to address a specific problem in Connecticut, it has found a way to destroy it, which is just another reason why we should not have tolls.

This regrettable pattern has taken a toll on public opinion — pun intended. As residents lose faith in their state government’s ability to control spending, it will become increasingly difficult to take meaningful action. In the midst of all this, the governor continues to hold back municipal funding until the General Assembly agrees to support his tolls initiative, effectively leaving our local communities in limbo. This does nothing for the cause and only highlights the distrust. Let’s all get together to keep our promises and the integrity of the funding mechanisms we currently have to address our transportation system.

Rosa C. Rebimbas

Naugatuck

The writer is a Republican state representative from the 70th General Assembly District.