Gov. Ned Lamont’s toes come very close to the line when it comes to going back on a campaign promise only to back tolls for 18-wheeler trucks.
He announced over the weekend in a social media video, and through an op-ed in Hearst Connecticut Media publications, that he wanted to pursue a conversation about two different paths when it came to tolls: tolls for trucks only like he campaigned on, or a broad toll program on all cars.
Lamont did pledge in the video he posted to Twitter, “Maximum discounts for Connecticut residents and Connecticut drivers.”
Lamont had much more to say about improvements to transportation during the campaign than his chief rival, Republican Bob Stefanowski. Lamont was out in the open discussing his plan for limited tolls. Stefanowski, on the other hand, opposed tolls in all forms but did not provide any plan to improve roads, bridges, and commuter rail.
Lamont said on June 13 of improving transportation infrastructure, "I think that starts with electronic tolling on some of our biggest trucks that are coming in from out of state using our roads, tax free, creating tons of maintenance issues and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
He was not alone in calling for some kind of toll program. Unaffiliated candidate Oz Griebel proposed congestion toll pricing in a pilot program in HOV lanes, while Lamont stuck to the truck toll pledge.
During the Connecticut Broadcasters Association Debate on October 18, Lamont said, “We can’t rely on the gasoline tax anymore. That’s become prohibitive, so we do a toll on tractor trailer trucks.”
Then, less than two weeks after he won the election to become Connecticut’s 89th governor, he found himself at odds with outgoing Gov. Dannel Malloy, his fellow Democrat. Malloy spent his last year in office backing tolls publicly for the first time, saying a truck-only program would not be enough.
Lamont said on November 19, “My focus on electronic tolling is very clear. We’re going to focus on those big tractor trailer trucks and that will raise us something like $250 million. That’s something I think I can get through this legislature on short order and I want to get going on that.”
The Lamont administration is defending the governor’s announcement over the weekend as a look into his leadership style, listening to all ideas.
"There's a difference between being in the campaign in the heat of debate and being in the governor's office,” Chief of Staff Ryan Drajewicz said.
He cited data from studies conducted by the Connecticut Department of Transportation, conveying that trucks would bring in, at most, one quarter of the revenue that all cars would bring in for the state. The studies showed Connecticut could bring in up to $800 million from all vehicles, and somewhere between $50 million, and $200 million through exclusive truck tolls.
Democratic Sen. Alex Bergstein, a freshman member of the General Assembly form Greenwich, campaigned on installing tolls, and filed a bill to do so. She told NBC Connecticut that she favors starting an infrastructure bank to the fund the projects, while also partnering with private sector companies with expertise in infrastructure projects. She said she hoped Republicans would support it, saying, “modernizing our infrastructure should not be a partisan issue. It’s a matter of economic survival. And an Infrastructure Bank would deliver the results we need.”
Republicans criticized Lamont, and today Sen. Len Fasano said he did not expect any of the 13 Senate Republicans to vote for any toll proposal.
“Tolls just simply do not work, not in the short term, and frankly, not in the long term,” Fasano said. He wants the governor to be open to the GOP proposal to borrow $65 billion over 30 years without new revenue to pay for infrastructure, instead.
“I think tolls is a very difficult proposition to get through that capitol,” he said.