Herbst blasts tolls plan

Democrats from the House of Representatives are planning to pave the way for electronic tolls on Connecticut highways. The Department of Transportation would create tolls, and the revenue generated would fund transportation projects. Tony Guerrera, D-29, is the House chairman of the Transportation Committee and has been pushing for tolls for some time.

“I promise you, if we do this, Connecticut will thrive,” Guerrera said in a press conference.

Without tolls, it would be possible to see fare hikes in public transportation to cover the projects. In early January, the state released a roster of 400 capital projects worth just over $4 billion that have been postponed over lack of funding.

Chris Perone, the chief transportation financial officer, said in a statement, “We are looking at a scenario where we will run out of money for our transportation infrastructure. Electronic tolls are the answer.”

There was some pushback against the idea. Many are worried that the revenue generated by tolls would be taken and used to address deficits in the state operating budget, as opposed to actually funding transportation projects.

Republican gubernatorial candidate and former Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst blasted the plan.

“This governor has demonstrated a pathological commitment to hiking taxes and fees on struggling Connecticut families and businesses,” Herbst said. “At every juncture his insider allies in Hartford have been eager to comply.”

Herbst said the toll plan, plus proposals to raise the gas tax and institute a tire tax, would push the state into permanent fiscal crisis.

“Rather than consider even the most obvious, necessary and common-sense reforms to trim the bloated bureaucracy in Hartford, this governor has shown he will always put hardworking taxpayers last,” Herbst said. “Gov. Malloy’s new proposal to hike the gas tax, already the sixth highest in the nation, force tolls onto our already congested highways, and place a fee on the purchase of new tires is an insult to struggling Connecticut residents.”

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who is running for governor, came out strongly against the idea.

“After misappropriating transportation funds for years to cover up self-inflicted budget deficits, Democrats now want to draw blood from a stone and impose yet another tax on the people of our state,” he said.

Republicans have historically come out against the idea of adding tolls, preferring instead to limit borrowing. Democrats have not been uniformly in favor of tolls, and with the House nearly evenly split, garnering enough votes to pass a measure to create tolls could be a difficult task.

Connecticut highways had tolls in 1958, but they were abolished in 1988 after a crash killed seven people in Stratford in 1983. Before being removed in 1985, tolls generated about $65 million annually in revenue for the state.

Trumbull Times Editor Donald Eng contributed to this story.