TCI a Needed Source of Matching Dollars for Infrastructure, Says Environmental Watchdog

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Heading into next year’s state legislative session, Lori Brown, executive director of Connecticut’s League of Conservation Voters, told CT Examiner that far from eclipsing the Transportation Climate Initiative, the billions of dollars of announced federal infrastructure spending for Connecticut means that the proposed fee on fuel wholesalers is more important than ever.

“Connecticut will have to apply for competitive funds from Build Back Better, and we tend to do well applying for competitive funds, but a lot of that will be money our state has to match,” Brown explained. “For anyone who says, we’re getting all of this money now, why would we need TCI … to be competitive for that money, we need matching funds, and if we don’t have TCI, the money to match Build Back Better funds will have to come out of municipal budgets or bonding.” 

The environmental nonprofit is a self-described “legislative watchdog” for bills “impacting our air, water, wildlife, open space, and our health.”

According to a report compiled by Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the state may need a billion dollars in matching funds to qualify for federal funding for low-emission rail and bus infrastructure, highway and road upgrades to reduce crashes, and electric vehicle charging.

“Rather than reducing the need for TCI-P, this federal spending will make TCI-P even more critical as a source of state or local matching funds for federal grant programs,” according to the analysis.

TCI was not brought to a vote last session — which State Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, says was simply due to lack of support — but advocates claim the votes were there to pass the legislation.  

The proposal faced stiff opposition from Republican legislators and industry officials, who argued that the costs to wholesalers would be passed onto consumers through increased gas prices, and amounted to a gas tax. Advocates disagreed, arguing that the cost to wholesalers will incentivize lower-carbon biofuels. 

“The cry is still going to be tax, tax, tax, but it’s an investment, and the return on that investment is immense,” Brown said. “Lawmakers are timid and almost captive to every next election and who’s going to beat them up over what, but they know that this is the right thing to do, especially considering all of the money that could be used to match funding at the federal level.” 

Brown said that conversations with legislators like State Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, who serves on the Environment Committee, have given her hope for the future of TCI. 

Brown said that Republican legislators come to Haskell to help finance transportation projects in their districts that they know could be fundable through Build Back Better with some matching required.  

“They want to be able to fund these projects,” Brown said. “So TCI is not dead, it’s still very real and very much alive, and we’re gung ho to get it passed.” 

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