AP NEWS

CT anti-toll rally organizers fear movement will get run over

April 13, 2019

HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont’s proposal to reinstall tolls on four Connecticut highways will force the working class to spend more money to get to work, according to those who attended an anti-toll rally Saturday.

That’s why organizers of the rally were scratching their head wondering why there weren’t thousands of people at the rally to protest the reintroduction of tolls in Connecticut.

About 125 people, according to Capitol Police, gathered on the north steps to call upon Lamont and legislators to use the money they already have in order to pay for improvements to Connecticut’s roads, bridges, and rails.

Lamont, who only favored truck tolls on the campaign trail before changing his mind and proposing tolls on all vehicles shortly after taking office, argues that the state needs a new revenue stream to pay for all of its infrastructure needs. His proposal seeks to raise $800 million annually and he’s expressed confidence that the Democratic majority can get it done.

Lee Elci, a radio host with 94.9 FM in Ledyard, encouraged everyone to fight tolls, but admitted Lamont was likely going to win this one.

“We’re so outnumbered now,” Elci said. “We want to take the hill but we may not have the manpower to do it.”

Elci said he wishes he was more optimistic and he can’t explain why anyone would support another tax.

“Can you imagine another $1,500 bucks for tolls every single year?” Elci said.

Lamont’s administration released preliminary details of the tolling amounts earlier this week and depending on how many miles someone drives on those four tolled highways they would likely have to pay somewhere between $600 to $1,000 more per year to the state. A 39-mile trip from Hartford to New Haven would be $1.36 at off-peak hours and $1.72 during peak hours. That would mean about $825 per year for the 39-mile commute. Lamont also wants to offer a discount for Connecticut residents, but it’s all still subject to negotiations between state lawmakers and then between the state and federal government.

“I don’t know how anybody is going to survive it and I don’t know why there aren’t 50,000 people here today to protest the insanity of what is going on,” WTIC radio host Todd Feinberg said.

Feinberg said Democrats must feel affirmed by the election results which saw them expand their majority and they want to reward the unions.

“The tolls aren’t even for construction projects because they have all the money they need for construction project,” Feinberg told the crowd. “The whole thing is a lie.”

Mark Bibbins of Windsor attended the rally Saturday and said Connecticut already has plenty of money to pay for its transportation infrastructure.

“I do believe Connecticut has enough money to cover the expense if it stops squandering the Special Transportation Fund — and cuts spending,” Bibbins said.

The rally was sponsored by the Libertarian Party of Connecticut. The No Tolls CT group, another anti-toll group was holding rallies Saturday in Windsor, Milford, and Old Saybrook. The No Tolls CT group headed by Patrick Sasser is holding its state Capitol rally on May 18. It’s unclear why the two groups were unable to work together.

Almost everyone who attended Saturday’s Capitol rally said they didn’t trust legislators to spend the money they might collect from tolls wisely.

Frank Farricker, a Democrat from Greenwich who chaired his town’s party, said he doesn’t believe taxing people on the way to work every day is a “Democratic value.”

“Democrats are not supposed to make things harder for the little guy,” Farricker said. “We’re supposed to make things better.”

He said there are problems with Connecticut’s infrastructure but those problems need to be fixed “with the consent of the governed.”

He said a toll isn’t a user fee and it might not even be a tax, but “it’s just a convenient way to raise revenue.” Farricker said that if Lamont had a 30-year plan to improve Connecticut’s roads and bridges, then he would be the first one to support him.

Farricker, who likely disagreed with those at the rally on a number of other issues, said he doesn’t want his party to lose the majority they’ve held for more than 40 years and he fears voting for tolls just might cause that to happen. He was more cautious than Elci about believing tolls was a done deal.

“You have way more fans on the Democratic side than you know,” Farricker told the crowd.

Steve Noxon, a radio host with WATR, said this isn’t just about “buying the votes of the public sector unions. This is about giving a huge windfall to his rich friends.”

If Lamont gets his way the state will borrow against the revenue it anticipates collecting from tolls to get the gantries up and running within three years.

“They’re going to go to Wall Street to sell this never-ending stream of revenue to Wall Street and they’re going to get filthy rich,” Noxon said.

He said it has nothing to do with transportation or infrastructure, he said, “this is about enriching his friends and paying back the unions.”

Republican lawmakers have been pitching their proposal to reprioritize bonding as a solution to Connecticut’s infrastructure problems without tolls. Only two Republican lawmakers attended Saturday’s rally.

A statewide poll by Sacred Heart University in Fairfield in March showed 59 percent against tolls and 34.7 percent in favor.

Lamont has said he will continue to expend his political capital on the issue.

“The people who attended today’s rally aren’t saying no to tolls,” Rob Blanchard, a spokesman for Lamont said Saturday.

“They’re saying yes to taking out a $30 billion loan, as proposed by the Republicans, recklessly adding to the state’s deficit and requiring Connecticut taxpayers to foot 100 percent of the bill-plus interest. In contrast, the governor’s plan ensures 40 percent of the bill will be paid by out-of-state drivers. That’s why the Governor’s proposal is supported by a broad coalition of local, business, labor and legislative leaders and provides a reliable, sustainable path forward for Connecticut.”