TCI ‘Clearly Can’t Happen’ Without Lamont Taking the Lead, Says Looney

In light of Gov. Ned Lamont pulling his support for the Transportation and Climate Initiative on Tuesday, State Senate President Martin Looney told CT Examiner that the legislation would “obviously not” be introduced in the State Senate this session.

On Wednesday, Lamont attempted to walk back his comments, saying he would sign the bill if lawmakers passed TCI this session, according to the Hartford Courant. But Looney said Lamont’s change in tune didn’t change the reality of the situation, and said TCI can’t happen without proactive support from the governor.

“The operative statement is the one he gave yesterday,” Looney said. “This is of course a gubernatorial initiative. Without the governor advocating for this, pushing for it, it clearly can’t happen, because with an issue like this, you can’t lead from the rear.”

Looney said TCI did not come up in the Senate in the last legislative session because there weren’t enough senators in favor of the measure to pass it. He said there wasn’t a majority even within the Democratic caucus who wanted to pass TCI last session, which ended in June when gasoline prices in the Hartford area were nearly 50 cents per gallon cheaper than they are now, according to GasBuddy, which relies on crowdsourcing to list local gas prices.

Looney said many senators, Democrat and Republican, have concerns about the impact TCI could have on poorer people who already bear a disproportionate share of fuel taxes – and who could end up taking on more of that burden as wealthier residents switch to electric vehicles. 

“We’re paying about $1.40 a gallon more than we were a year ago [according to AAA], so for most people that’s $15-20 a week, or $800-1,000 over a whole year,” Looney said. “So that’s very painful.”

When he spoke with CT Examiner ahead of the legislature’s special session this past September, Looney was more optimistic about getting TCI done, as advocates for the program negotiated to find a policy to balance out the impact of TCI’s added costs – estimated at 5 to 9 cents per gallon – on poorer drivers.

“We have to look at equity in all of this,” Looney said. “The burden of environmental policy should not fall on those who are least able to pay – the person who is driving a 12-year-old Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic to their retail clerk job.”

Though TCI did not come up in the special session, Looney said discussions about how to balance the impact of TCI have continued. Any further efforts to pass TCI will have to be “TCI plus” some way to mitigate the impact of increased gas prices on poorer drivers.

Lawmakers have discussed creating an income tax credit that would offset the increase to the price of gasoline that TCI would cause. Another option could be a progressive utility rate structure, where poorer customers would pay a lower rate – though that would take longer to implement, Looney said.  

Lamont hasn’t agreed to any of the alternatives lawmakers had proposed to offset the impact TCI would have on gas prices, Looney said.

“[There won’t be progress on TCI] unless the administration indicates they’re willing to open up a broad-ranging revenue discussion as a way of mitigating any regressive aspects of TCI,” Looney said. “What the governor said yesterday was that we’re going to defer this to another time because of the fact that gas prices are currently so high that any further increase would be punitive, and I think that’s certainly right.”

Looney said the high price of gasoline was “transformative” in the debate over TCI, and so was the approval of the federal infrastructure package. 

Looney said, in the short term, some of the “substantial” amount of infrastructure money that will be coming to Connecticut could be used for environmental and transportation-related projects that could have been funded by TCI – though advocates of the program have argued TCI is needed even more to provide a source of matching funds for federal infrastructure money.

“One of the things that I certainly hope we can direct the federal funds to is electrification of publicly-owned vehicles like school buses, municipal vehicle fleets, things of that nature,” Looney said. “That would make a huge difference.”

Looney said he was also in favor of the legislature calling for the state treasurer to divest from fossil fuel companies as a way to take action on the climate without TCI.

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