AP NEWS

Len Suzio The dirty tolls secrets

March 22, 2019

Every day we hear sound and fury about proposed tolls in Connecticut. How many tolls will there be? What other states have toll roads? What will the toll rates be? But these questions (1) avoid the most important issue of all and (2) hide a tax plan that no one has really talked about that will shock the public when they hear the details (hint, gas taxes will go up 56 percent).

As former vice chair of the Transportation Committee I am aghast about the committee’s irresponsible handling of the tolls issue. No one has vetted the wild $100 billion spending spree proposed by former Governor Malloy. It’s just been accepted without any serious questions.

When I testified in front of the Transportation Committee at the tolls hearing I pointed this out to the Transportation Committee chair who told me the $100 billion plan was “aspirational” (i.e., a “wish list”) and it was the Malloy administration’s plan, not the Lamont administration plan. I asked the chairman if he was going to have hearings on the new administration’s plan and he suggested I contact the governor!

So, we are now talking about financing a transportation infrastructure plan that has not been made public and the Transportation Committee has no meeting schedule to vet the biggest spending plan ever proposed in Connecticut. This is outrageous. The “Committee of Cognizance” refuses to do its job to scrutinize the biggest capital project in Connecticut history. The $100 billion spending plan is a big secret.

What’s even more shocking is the hidden tax increases proposed by a special “panel” for Connecticut’s record-breaking infrastructure plan. Back in 2016 the Transportation Finance Panel delivered a report to Governor Malloy and the Legislature. Included in the plan were tolls. But tolls were only a part of the tax increases proposed by the Transportation Finance Panel.

The panel knew that the spending spree proposed by Governor Malloy could never be sustained by tolls alone. So, the Finance Panel proposed a number of tax increases (in addition to tolls) to pay for Malloy’s pie-in-the-sky unexamined $100 billion transportation infrastructure plan. Tolls generating about $800 million per year simply won’t be enough to pay for the $100 billion plan ($24 billion in tolls won’t be enough to pay for a $100 billion spending boondoggle). Here is the breakout of the infrastructure financing plan:

$800 million per year net tolls fees (about $900 million gross)

$65 million per year in Increases in Motor Vehicle fees, licenses and permits (the Panel gave an example of a phased-in 45 percent increase in motor vehicle registration fees)

$200 million per year Increase in the gas tax from 25 centers per gallon to 39 cents per gallon phased in between now and 2030 (a 56 percent increase in the gas tax!)

$50 million per year increase in the Petroleum Gross Receipts tax from 8.1 percent to 9.1 percent (in other words a 13 percent increase)

Regular annual increases in rail and bus fares and parking rates

So aside from the $800 to $900 million per year of tolls, Connecticut motorists will have to pay another $315 million per year in increased gas taxes and motor vehicle fees! No one is talking about that now. Although Democrats have not announced the gas tax and motor vehicle fee increases, they are inevitable because of the drastic shortfall of toll revenues compared to infrastructure spending.

But even all the forgoing toll and tax increases won’t be enough to sustain a $100 billion spending spree, so the state will have to borrow billions of dollars to pay for the infrastructure and the financing costs of that borrowing will be in addition to the $100 billion spent on capital improvements.

All this borrowing will be in the form of long-term bonds to be paid over 20- 30 years. Remember your home mortgage? By the time you paid off the principal over 30 years you paid more in interest that principal. The $100 billion may end up costing $130 billion or more when all is said and done.

Includes $100 billion of Infrastructure spending plus interest plus additional operating costs (estimated to total $130 billion)

Think about the damaging impact to our struggling economy. The tolls and big gas tax increases will suck more money from the pockets of Connecticut motorists (I will bet that the proposed tax increases will escalate even more after they are passed) making economic recovery even more difficult.

So, it’s not just tolls that need to be examined. Malloy’s quixotic $100 billon boondoggle needs to be examined more closely to determine what we must do and what we can afford to do. Debating tolls is premature until we have the answers to the infrastructure question.

Len Suzio is a former state senator and former vice chairman of the Transportation Committee.