“I know this idea of tolling just sounds like one more damn tax I am going to have to pay,” leveled Gov.Ned Lamont, “[but] I cannot fix this state unless I fix our transportation system.”
Delivering his first state budget address Wednesday, Connecticut’s newly-minted kingpin confirmed that his word is worth just about as much as Republicans thought; maybe a tad less.
On the campaign trail, then-candidate Lamont was rather candid about his intentions for the state in terms of generating revenue to offset Connecticut’s massive budget crisis.
Speaking on the potential for electronic tolling on state highways, Lamont declared, “I’m going to make it a priority from day one.”
There it was; a gubernatorial candidate successfully running on the promise to actually add a brand new tax on his constituency. Voters didn’t seem to mind, however, if only because they were tragically mislead.
Lamont, according to a report in the Hartford Courant, proposed electronic tolling exclusively on out-of-state truckers. These new tolls, he proclaimed, would generate $360 million per year in revenue without, of course, having to impose a tax on state residents. Truckers would pay out the nose for their usage of state highways and Connecticut residents would be entirely unaffected. Perfect!
The only problem is that it’s unconstitutional for the state of Connecticut to discriminate by taxing one group of people and not another. Rhode Island is currently facing down a massive lawsuit from the trucking industry for attempting to do the exact same thing. Lamont is proposing right now, and he knows it.
In a piece published in the CT Post on Saturday, Lamont writes:
“I indicated my support for tolling only tractor trailer trucks, as they do in Rhode Island… While we are awaiting a ruling from the courts regarding truck-only tolling, our attorneys are pretty certain that if permitted, the tolling could only be done on specific bridges…Assuming our attorneys are correct, the truck-only option provides too little revenue, too slowly and too piecemeal to make a meaningful difference.”
Let’s unpack this.
First and foremost, Lamont knew full well that the state cannot tax trucks exclusively. The American Trucking Associations (ATA) is suing the state of Rhode Island for “[imposing] discriminatory and disproportionate burdens on out-of-state operators and on truckers who are operating in interstate commerce,” which is in violation of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. In planning to do the exact same thing here, Lamont followed the currently unsettled case across the border closely.
Next, the governor admits his prediction for $360 million in annual revenue isn’t quite going to cover the spread. If the truck and bridge tolls aren’t going to generate enough revenue, then it appears we’re going to have to tax…
Only now, from the safety of the governorship, did Lamont mention to the people that which they should’ve heard five months ago.
“There are proposals in the Legislature,” he explained, “that include tolling for cars and trucks. I would only consider this option if we maximized the discount for Connecticut EZ-Pass users and/or offered a ‘frequent driver’ discount for those who are required to travel our major roadways on a frequent basis.”
Unfortunately, Lamont didn’t elaborate on his plan to provide a discount for state drivers; he also didn’t mention that it’s still unconstitutional to do so.
According to the Cornell Legal Information Institute, the “Dormant Commerce Clause,” included in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the Constitution, prohibits the imposing of “protectionist state policies that favor state citizens or businesses at the expense of non-citizens conducting business within that state.”
Lamont has two options from here: 1) scrap the tolls altogether or 2) tax all drivers. If he scraps the tolls altogether, then revenue will need to be generated elsehow. Considering that electronic tolling was Lamont’s master plan, abandoning it will likely result in him breaking his promise to not raise the income tax.
These road tolls are projected to cost drivers an estimated $500 to $1,000 annually. Predictably, residents can expect the price of products to rise as the cost accrued by truckers delivering goods will ultimately be passed onto consumers. For similar reasons, there will be no escape in attempting to utilize Uber, Lyft or taxis. And, with drivers now incentivized to avoid major state highways, folks can expect that traffic will be heavily diverted to side roads.
In raving about Connecticut, Governor Lamont beamed, “we have it all — access to world-class talent; equidistant between Boston and New York without the exceptionally high cost of living; vibrant cultural and educational institutions.” I agree; we do have everything here.
Everything…except an honest governor.
Kevin Catapano is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.