With the State on the Hook For $1 Billion in Matching Funds, Legislators Debate Taxes

Republican legislative leaders on Wednesday urged Gov. Ned Lamont to set aside the highway usage fees for trucks passed by the state General Assembly in June, arguing that the governor’s “recent change-of-heart regarding TCI and tolls” should also extend to the truck tax. 

Lamont announced on Tuesday that he would not be pursuing tolls or the Transportation Climate Initiative, a regional cap-and-trade emissions program, in the coming legislative session. 

He explained the decision as a response to the influx of billions of federal frastructure dollars, though environmental advocates argued that passing TCI was still necessary to obtain matching funds for those federal dollars.

Max Reiss, Lamont’s communications director, explained that the cases for the truck tax and TCI are quite different. Because the highway usage fee has already passed the legislature, Reiss said, implementing that tax would make more sense than pushing for the passage of TCI, which “the General Assembly has made it clear they are not interested in pursuing.” 

Reiss said Lamont remained supportive of highway usage fees on trucks, which passed the General Assembly largely along party lines in June. 

“Matching funds are required in order for the State of Connecticut to maximize federal funding for Connecticut out of the historic infrastructure law,” Reiss said. “Governor Lamont has prioritized transportation upgrades for our state since he came into office, and our state will not leave any cash on the table.” 

The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated that the tax on large commercial trucks would bring in about $90 million per year, and would begin collecting fees next summer. 

According to a report compiled by Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the state could need more than one billion dollars over five years in matching funds to qualify for the full extent of federal infrastructure funding. 

State Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Lyme, ranking member on the Transportation Committee, urged Democrats to pull back on the implementation of the truck tax. 

“We’re on the verge of receiving more than $5 billion from the federal government for infrastructure projects, and this is an opportunity for all of us to hit the reset button,” Carney said. “The cost of living here is rapidly increasing and we firmly believe the most effective way to provide some relief is to stop this tax before it takes effect and becomes a permanent part of the landscape.” 

State Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, ranking member on the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, said that the healthy balance in the state’s special transportation fund meant that the truck tax would unnecessarily burden Connecticut consumers. 

“If we’re looking for matching funds, surely the gas tax already paid by residents would serve that role perfectly without adding on a new tax to the people bringing in goods for our citizens,” Cheeseman said. “We are not only seeing supply-chain issues, but record levels of inflation. I don’t think this is the time.” 

According to an October report from the Office of Policy and Management, Connecticut’s special transportation fund is expected to end the calendar year with an operating surplus of $183 million, and will have an estimated balance of $424 million in June 2022. 

But that funding, according to State Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, would not be enough to pay for the state’s infrastructure obligations. 

“Even with our improving special transportation fund projections and the influx of federal funds thanks to the bipartisan infrastructure bill, we still need revenue to keep up with our vast infrastructure needs,” Scanlon said. “Asking the trucks that do the greatest damage to our roads and bridges to pay a small fee compared to what they pay in our neighboring states who have tolls is a very reasonable way we can meet our obligations without asking more of all drivers.”

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