The proposal that would have started the process to bring tolls back to Connecticut highways died late Tuesday and early Wednesday.
Top Democrats could not secure enough support for the tolls either in their chamber or even in the Connecticut Senate, likely sinking the issue in the waning days of the legislative session.
“Look, I’m willing to put my election on the line over tolls because I genuinely believe it’s the right thing and ultimately that may happen,” said Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz, (D – Berlin). “I just think more people should.”
The proposal would have authorized the Connecticut Department of Transportation to come up with a plan for tolls that would then be voted on again in the 2019 General Assembly.
That never sat well with Republicans, describing the bill as a tax. And many Democrats were fearful of a constituent backlash in a year where they are defending seats in what could be a tightly contested statewide election.
Rep. Tony Guerrera, (D – Rocky Hill), has been the loudest support of tolls for years, and he said the risk was too great, for now, for Democrats to spend a lot of time and effort on a bill that they were not even guaranteed could pass the evenly divided Senate.
“Do we have a six to eight-hour debate down here and then does the bill ever get called upstairs?” asked Guerrera. “So there’s some dynamics that we need to deal with.”
Republicans were united against tolls from the start. They proposed their own infrastructure spending plan which relied exclusively on borrowing $63 billion over 30 years, and using the state’s bonding authority. They proposed no new revenues to pay for infrastructure, unlike tolls, and would instead rely on existing revenues to pay for the projects.
They argue their plan never got a fair shake with Democrats in control of the General Assembly.
“They pin their hopes on things that have failed to work their way through whether it’s raising taxes on tires or gas or tolls whatever when we have a plan that does no new taxes, no tolls, and gives them over a billion dollars a year,” said Sen. Len Fasano, (R – North Haven), the top Republican in the Senate.
The issue of tolls is not likely to go away this session or for the foreseeable future Aresimowicz predicts the next governor and General Assembly will have to consider them as a way to raise revenue for infrastructure, and would not rule out the issue for even the final day of the session next week.
“I am going to work as hard as I can over the next few days until we adjourn session to try to come up with a plan to try to get tolls up on the board,” he said.