AP NEWS

Legislators to discuss tolls in Town Hall

May 2, 2019

GREENWICH — Whether tolls will return to Connecticut’s highways is expected to dominate the final weeks of the legislative session in Hartford.

Two Greenwich lawmakers opposed to tolls, state Reps. Livvy Floren, R-149, and Fred Camillo, R-151, will host a forum on the issue May 13 at Town Hall.

A final bill that spells out what tolling in Connecticut might actually consist of has yet to be formalized. Floren said “wiggle room galore” remains.

“The budget will most likely not be finalized by the end of session on June 5,” Floren said. “My estimate is that we won’t be voting on this until September.”

Options still on the table include tolls only for trucks, discounts for residents and local employees, and prices that fluctuate depending on time of day. Additionally, there is the GOP-favored Prioritize Progress plan, which would pay for improvements to infrastructure through short-term bonds, not tolls.

Though tolls are being pushed by Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, Floren and Camillo said there is enough uncertainty in the Democratically controlled Legislature to put the issue’s future in doubt.

“It was thought to be overwhelming because of the numbers but it seems some Democrats have peeled off and are having second thoughts,” Camillo said. “There seems to be some Democratic pushback to the tolls but how much remains to be seen.”

Camillo said he also is against the Prioritize Progress plan, though would prefer that to tolling. Weigh stations should be open longer, he said, and the new transportation lockbox, which will prohibit transportation funds from being raided starting July 1, must be given a chance to work.

The lockbox was approved by state voters last November.

The forum will feature two of Camillo and Floren’s Republican colleagues in the Legislature, state Reps. Henri Martin, R-31, and Laura Develin, R-134. Both are members of the Transportation Committee and have voted against tolls. The Greenwich legislators said the session will include an opportunity for questions and they welcome all sides.

The 7 p.m. forum is scheduled for the same date and time as the Representative Town Meeting’s vote on the town’s proposed municipal budget, which could depress attendance for the event. Floren said they have requested for the event to be recorded by the GCTV cameras that are in the Town Hall Meeting Room for later broadcast and posting online.

The issue of tolls has highlighted the split in Greenwich’s delegation to Hartford, which had been entirely Republican for 90 years until last year when state Sen. Alexandra Bergstein, D-36, and state Rep. Stephen Meskers, D-150, were elected. While Camillo and Floren are against tolls, both Bergstein and Meskers made their support of tolls a part of their successful campaigns.

And after taking office in January, Bergstein introduced the first bill for tolls, saying that she considered it a way to create economic development in the state by raising money dedicated to transportation infrastructure improvements.

Neither Bergstein nor Meskers have been invited to May 13’s forum and Bergstein said that they’d like to be.

“A forum implies that all sides are represented,” Bergstein said.

Meskers agreed, saying, “I find it really disappointing that you would have an informational forum where the only speakers are those who have stated their position as opposed to tolls. That does not educate the public.”

Camillo said on Wednesday that Bergstein is welcome to attend.

“I’d like to participate in a free and open discussion that focuses on facts,” Bergstein said. “If that’s what this is, I hope they’ll invite us to be equal participants/hosts.”

Meskers said he understands concerns people have had about where the burden of tolls will fall and he is willing to continue to work on that as the bill takes its final form. However, he said without tolls the state would not be able to address its infrastructure needs and the burden from that would fall hardest on disadvantaged residents.

Meskers said he would like to attend the forum but will not be able to because of the RTM meeting since he is still a member of the body.

There has been pushback against tolls in Greenwich. An crowd of about 20 people gathered on Sunday outside a March On Greenwich discussion that included the town’s legislative delegation at YWCA Greenwich. Toll opponents have made their presence felt at other events, particularly ones featuring Bergstein.

How widespread that opposition is remains unclear, however. In April the Greenwich RTM decided not to vote on a non-binding sense of the meeting resolution that would have stated the town’s opposition to tolls.

A protest against tolls has reportedly been planned for Saturday morning at 10 a.m. by Exit 5’s ramps to Interstate 95 in Riverside.

kborsuk@greenwichtime.com