HARTFORD — With billions more in federal funding coming in and rising fuel taxes filling the Special Transportation Fund, Gov. Ned Lamont has for now ruled out trying to revive tolls on highway users and a carbon emissions fee on fuel suppliers.
Lamont told reporters Tuesday morning that he has no plans to pursue either politically contentious proposal to raise state matching funds required under federal law a day after returning from the White House signing ceremony of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
He said the state will be able to meet its funding obligations in the near term without revenue from highway tolls or the emissions fee. He said this is because increasing fuel costs are raising more state taxes than expected, and the new mileage tax on heavy trucks, projected to raise an additional $90 million annually, will take effect in 2023.
“We are well positioned to be able pay our fair share to make sure this infrastructure gets going,” Lamont said following an appearance at a Thanksgiving food drive in downtown Hartford.
Connecticut is due to receive nearly $5.4 billion in direct funding from the infrastructure bill.
The state also is eligible to vie for $30 billion in competitive grants for improving rail service in the Northeast Corridor and another $100 billion in other national competitive grants.
THE FIRST-TERM DEMOCRAT REBUFFED renewed speculation on highway tolls that followed the passage of the bipartisan federal infrastructure bill.
Lamont pursued tolls during his first year in office as a means of leveraging federal transportation funding, but gave up in early 2020 after bipartisan legislative opposition thwarted every tolling plan that was put forward.
“We have got to do our share. We can do our share without tolls. Been there, done that. That is not happening,” Lamont said.
The governor also ruled out seeking the legislature’s authorization again to join the Transportation and Climate Initiative Program, a proposed regional cap-and-trade program that would require large fuel suppliers in participating states to purchase greenhouse gas allowances at quarterly auctions.
Like highway tolls, the TCI proposal encountered bipartisan opposition in Democrat-controlled legislature earlier this year because estimates that state’s participation would cost motorists an additional $800 million to $1 billion more over 10 years.
Lamont’s messaging on TCI has been mixed, including again Tuesday.
He continued to push the proposal after its initial legislative defeat, and only two months ago he reiterated his support for the multistate agreement that he signed last year. Then, he sounded clear Tuesday morning that he is putting TCI on hold when asked if he planned to continue to pursue authorization in the election-year legislative session in 2022.
“Look, I couldn’t get that through when gas prices were at historic lows. So I think the legislature has been pretty clear that is going to be a tough rock to push when gas prices are so high, so, now, no,” Lamont said.
At a later appearance in East Hartford, he left open the possibility of trying again in 2023 when asked if TCI could come back then.
“Yeah, let’s see where we are,” he said.
REPUBLICANS REACTED WARILY to the governor’s initial remarks Tuesday morning in Hartford before Lamont hedged on his earlier statements on TCI when he spoke to reporters a second time in East Hartford.
House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford, said he was not surprised that Lamont would say he is ruling out highway tolls and TCI between the massive influx of federal funding and the increasing fuel tax collections. He said he wants to have high level discussions between the legislative leadership and the governor’s office on plans for funding required state matching funds and for providing some tax relief.
“I think the only thing that is going to prevent tax increases this year is the fact that we are going into the election year,” Candelora said. “Both the governor is seeking re-election, and our legislature is in re-election mode, so I doubt there is going to be talk on taxes. But given how hard they have pushed it you can sure bet after election we’re going to see these taxes put right back on the table.”
Senate Minority Leader Kevin C. Kelly, R-Stratford, said he hopes Lamont is being sincere and not posturing for the 2022 campaign.
“Tolls and the TCI gas tax were never about transportation or the environment. They were about money,” he said. “There are better ways to achieve cleaner air and make investments in transportation without taking more from taxpayers’ wallets.”
TCI advocates were unhappy with what Lamont said Tuesday.
“The governor’s apparent abandonment of his top climate priority is incredibly disappointing,” said Charles Rothenberger, the climate and energy attorney for Save the Sound, a statewide environmental group.