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State Sen. L. Scott Frantz Tolls an obstacle in navigating state out of debt

August 1, 2018

Everyone knows our transportation infrastructure is amongst the worst in the country. I will make the case for how to improve it all while avoiding some fundamentally flawed ideas that have been offered by my opponent for state senate.

First, tolls are not the answer. Connecticut could lose its federal transportation funding if it installed tolls for purposes other than congestion pricing, a program subject to great scrutiny from federal authorities. This is an unacceptable risk.

Secondly, the feds have made it clear that states cannot perform border tolling, so whatever plan would be put into place would have to be a statewide network of tolling gantries on major highways and parkways. This is a bad idea. Tolls would adversely affect drivers and taxpayers throughout the entire state, which defies my opponent’s idea of capturing out-of-state toll revenue. It is an even worse idea because the Supreme Court has made it abundantly clear that there are limitations on differential tolling rates between in-state and out-of-state drivers.

The estimate that she gives of $1 billion per year in toll revenue is overly optimistic, and assumes the highest toll rates in the country. This is before subtracting federal funds that we could lose if we install tolls that do not conform precisely to federal standards. If using realistic revenue numbers, it is conceivable that we end up in a much worse position than before and would have then added a huge burden to Connecticut drivers.

Another suggestion was to create an infrastructure bank that “leverages private funding.” Nearly every state infrastructure bank in the nation is defunct or inactive and the federal infrastructure bank never could get off the ground due to its unrealistic structure.These kinds of schemes are merely a way of concealing significant incremental borrowing, which further burdens future generations with additional debt.

We, the Connecticut taxpayers, have already paid and continue to pay for our roads and transportation systems, thereby defining tolls as an additional tax. There is a shortage of transportation funding due to poor fiscal management for decades in Hartford by the majority party. This could all change come the beginning of next year and with it, this incremental taxing scheme could be avoided.

Other downsides to implementing tolls include large increases in traffic on local roads with drivers looking to avoid paying toll charges. This is a fact of life in states where tolls exist. Tolls are a very regressive tax. My opponent claims lower income folks could be exempted from tolls, but this concept is unprecedented. Tolls are a business-killer in any industry that utilizes highways and parkways. Imagine the home heating oil distribution company having to pay tens of thousands of dollars annually just to continue running their business or the carpenter who may have to travel up to 70 miles to get to a job site paying $3,000 more per year to commute.

My opponent claims the No. 1 reason companies don’t come here is related to transportation problems. If one spends any time with major business decision-makers in and around our state, it’s not transportation that is the problem; it is our balance sheet and the sorry state of our fiscal house which has been decimated for generations.

We must move forward on the issue of how to fund our infrastructure improvements. Our plan to use bond proceeds from the affordable levels of debt (replacing wasteful spending) combined with Special Transportation Fund (STF) creates funding of $64 billion dollars over 30 years. We were successful in capping the governor’s runaway debt increases at $1.9 billion annually after he made it clear he wanted to issue up to $3 billion annually. Within this affordable amount of debt lies enough capacity to fund transportation projects along with the STF to the point where we can afford to make major improvements. My opponent claims the approach of using debt has been used unsuccessfully. What she fails to mention is that we have as a state not taken a close look at wasteful projects that have been bonded in the past and determined that that specific capacity could be used for transportation infrastructure purposes.

It’s very simple - raise taxes, and you slow the economy down and deter people and businesses from coming to Connecticut. Lower taxes and fees, and we can return to fiscal strength and our former greatness as a state.

Connecticut needs people in Hartford who understand the numbers, understand what works and what does not work, has the relationships with those who make things happen and are straightforward with what is happening in our Capitol. We need people with creative and realistic ideas who will work when the majority party ruling Hartford for generations becomes less influential.

L. Scott Frantz is a state senator representing Greenwich and parts of Stamford and New Canaan.

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