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Tolling, Higher Taxes Among Transportation Funding Ideas

Jessica Hill

New congestion tolling, higher sales and gas taxes, and increased licensing fees are among a list of ideas presented Friday on how to help fund Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's proposed $100 billion overhaul of Connecticut's aging transportation infrastructure.

The revenue changes recommended by the Transportation Finance Panel wouldn't begin until fiscal year 2018. That would theoretically give state lawmakers and the voters time to change the state's constitution and institute a so-called "lock box," preventing transportation funds from being raided for other purposes.

Malloy plans to present new lockbox legislation for lawmakers to consider when they return to the state Capitol on Feb. 3. It must pass by three-quarters of each chamber of the Democratic-controlled General Assembly in order to appear on the November ballot. An earlier version passed the legislature last year by only a simple majority.

"The goal this year has got to be, to get out of the legislature a constitutional lockbox with the required support to allow it to be on the ballot this year," said the Democratic governor. "I'm not going to lead additional revenue discussions until that happens."

Malloy has argued that Connecticut taxpayers need to be assured that the revenue generated from any additional taxes and fees they're asked to pay will be dedicated to fixing the state's roads, bridges and rail lines.

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, questioned the intention of waiting until after the November election, when state lawmakers are up for re-election, to vote on new tolls and taxes.

"They don't want to vote, because they know that their votes supporting new taxes are not what the people of Connecticut want to see," Fasano said. "Their intention is to purposely stay silent, get elected, and then raise taxes — just like we saw after the last election."

How Malloy's plan will ultimately be funded will likely be the most contentious part of the effort. There appears to be bipartisan agreement that upgrades and improvements are needed to keep the current system operational and to modernize it for the future.

For example, four movable bridges along the New Haven Line are more than 100 years old. Meanwhile, 10 percent of the state's highway bridges are structurally deficient and 25 percent are functionally obsolete, according to Malloy's office.

"It is undeniable there are an enormous amount of projects that have to be done," said Cameron Staples, the panel's chairman. "The question is, how do you pay for it?"

The committee's revenue recommendations to Malloy would provide $92 billion for transportation upgrades through 2045. Of that figure, $42 billion would be new revenue.

Under the wide-ranging plan, the state's gasoline tax would increase by 14 cents per gallon over seven years to a total of 39 cents. That's the same rate Connecticut taxed in the 1990s, until it was cut 14 cents. The change is projected to generate $1.3 billion over five years.

The proposal also calls for adjusting the rate structure of motor vehicle fees, licenses and permits for inflation. Additionally, rail and bus fare and parking rates would increase annually by 2.5 percent to keep pace with inflation.

The tolling portion of the proposal calls for implementing all-electronic tolling on highways. The rates motorists would pay would depend on the time of day they travel. Staples said Connecticut is the only state along the I-95 corridor without some sort of tolling already in place.

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