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Lamont tries to bolster tolls support with compromise

May 10, 2019

HARTFORD — In a letter sent Thursday to the entire General Assembly, Gov. Ned Lamont told legislators he’s willing to work toward a compromise that provides for some short-term borrowing until tolls are fully implemented, despite his much-maligned debt diet.

Lamont also said the transportation legislation will create a Connecticut Transportation Commission, an idea first proposed late last month by Sen. John Fonfara, a veteran Hartford Democrat who chairs the legislature’s revenue committee.

The letter signals Lamont’s efforts to solidify Democratic support for tolls before the legislature adjourns June 5. Some Democrats do not support tolls and others have concerns about what they believe are scant details on toll implementation and transportation spending from the administration.

Even some toll supporting lawmakers expressed frustration with the administration’s toll strategy Thursday.

“For the last two months, my administration has been working with the Transportation co-chairs to craft a bill that allows us to upgrade our roads and bridges and speed up rail,” Lamont wrote. “I have also talked with Republicans and Democrats about a potential compromise, all in the spirit of forging a bipartisan path ahead — a place in which I am very comfortable.”

Lamont’s administration has been repeatedly criticized for not producing a long-term transportation spending plan indicating exactly how he would spend the $800 million a year he predicts tolls will produce, which was the impetus for Thursday’s letter.

“I heard you when you said that you wanted more line-of-sight into the state’s long-range transportation planning and development,” Lamont wrote Thursday.

Lamont’s letter did not specify how much bonding he would support. The businessman-turned-governor and his staff have been meeting with lawmakers to build enough support to pass tolls before the legislative session ends.

Lamont sat down with Sen. James Maroney, D-Milford, to discuss tolls and other topics Thursday. Maroney, whose district is intersected by the Merritt Parkway and I-95, opposes all tolls on passenger cars, instead backing bonding and trucks-only tolls like Lamont pitched during the campaign.

Maroney declined to say what the governor may have offered to change his vote from no to yes. But he said he’d vote no on tolling passenger cars whether the gantries are installed on the Parkway or not.

Sen. Julie Kushner of Danbury, another Democrat who opposes tolls, also said her position remains firm Thursday.

Sen. Alex Bergstein, D-Greenwich, and Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, both toll supporters, backed Lamont’s compromise proposals including some bonding and a transportation commission.

But they also expressed concerns about the executive branch’s leadership on this divisive issue.

“I have been dismayed at the lack of coordination and messaging on our side,” said Bergstein. “For months I have been seeking out the executive branch and asking for a coordinated messaging strategy and public relations so that we can at least inform the public with real facts. To date, I have only seen piecemeal efforts.”

“Unless we have leadership from the top and a coordinated strategy, you see how things...” she let her voice trail off.

Haskell worried about the clock running down without tolls passing because of a lack of a long-term transportation spending plan.

“My constituents, I believe, sent me to Hartford to vote in favor of tolls,” he said. “What the constituents are right to expect and every person that they sent to Hartford, whether Democrat or Republican, is a long-term transportation plan with a vision of how we’re going to fund this thing and how we’re going to make people’s every day lives better. And that plan doesn’t ex... we haven’t seen that plan yet.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D- New Haven, urged lawmakers to rise above partisanship to address the state’s transportation crisis.

“All of Connecticut — Democrats, Republicans, and Independents — looks to the entire General Assembly to work together on developing a sustainable answer for our transportation challenges,” Looney said.

While Lamont’s move toward some bonding inches him closer to the Republican transportation funding strategy “Prioritize Progress,” Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, was disappointed that Lamont would not abandon tolls or new taxes for transportation.

“The proposal outlined in Gov. Lamont’s letter today is the same ‘plan’ he has been talking about for months,” Fasano said. “It is a plan that is based on hypothetical sketch numbers, that has never been shared with the federal government, and that takes the full General Assembly out of the decision making when it comes to how tolls will actually impact our residents and local communities.”