For whom the bell tolls…

Rejean Carrier, right, president of Carrier Home Builders, Inc. in Plainville, asks a question to elected officials at Bristol Central High School last Monday during a forum about proposed tolls in Connecticut. Jennifer Cusato, left, moderated the discussion that drew residents from Bristol, Plainville, and other area towns. (Photo by Janelle Morelli)

TAYLOR MURCHISON-GALLAGHER

STAFF WRITER

Senator Henri Martin (R-31) and State Representative Laura Devlin (R-134) hosted an informational forum regarding the proposal of tolls in the State of Connecticut, on Monday, Mar. 25, at Bristol Central High School.

The pair are the ranking members of the State of Connecticut Transpor-tation Committee (Devlin in the House, Martin in the Senate).

Devlin explained that the Special Transportation Fund (also known as the “lock box”), originally intended to back transportation bonding, and then pay off those bonds with the debt service is funded through a mix of revenues.

About 19 percent ($330 million) of the revenue comes from the Petroleum Gas Excise Tax. According to Devlin, it’s a tax found in Connecticut and about five other states. About 30 percent ($500 million) comes from the Motor Fuels Tax.

She said about 90 percent of this particular revenue comes from the taxes paid by drivers filling their fuel tank, as well as the tax on diesel fuel. About 21 percent stems from the Sales and Use Tax. There are also funds from DMV Sales Tax, Motor Vehicle Receipts, Licensing, and Permits, amongst others. As of January, Devlin said, these revenue streams had totaled about $1.7 billion.

Many ideas for implementing tolls have caught public attention, such as only having tolls at the borders, making tolls only applicable to out of state drivers, or only applicable to trucks. For legal reasons, none of those options are viable, said Devlin.

Since about 2015, Devlin said, Connecticut has spent about $17 million on studies regarding tolling, and as part of that, the state entered into a “value pricing pilot program.” She explained this means if the state goes ahead with tolls, “the only way we could do that is to implement congestion pricing.” Congestion pricing is intended to discourage travel at peak commute times (between 6 and 9 a.m., and 4 and 7 p.m.), by implementing higher toll prices during those hours.

Martin discussed the Republican-backed plan called “Prioritize Progress,” which he deemed as an alternative to tolls, as it is “a plan to address long term transportation needs in the state,” with the goal of stabilizing “transportation funding sources within state resources while not adding a tax burden to the people of Connecticut.”

Martin said that in 2015, the Department of Transportation and then DOT commissioner, James Redeker, estimated “they needed $62 billion over a 30 year period,” to complete necessary projects.

The senator explained that currently, in order to fund DOT projects, the state uses a mix of Special Tax Obligation Bonds (about $750 million a year), and federal funding – part of which comes from our gasoline tax from which the state receives a total of $732 million on average. According to Martin, over a 30 year period, those two revenue sources total $45 billion a year.

This map presented at last Monday’s forum on tolls at Bristol Central High School illustrates wear gantries could be installed to collect the fees from drivers.

Prioritize Progress would utilize general obligation bonds, while respecting the constitutional spending cap of $2 billion. Many of the state’s core investments, such as University of Connecticut, school projects, school securities, and funding municipalities, are currently funded through GO bonds. The plan would fund these investments with $1.3 billion, leaving a difference of $700 million.

That $700 million, explained Martin, would be given to the DOT to fund projects. Those funds, added into the $750 million from Special Tax Obligation Bonds and the $732 million in federal funding totals about $2.2 billion. According to Martin, over a 30 year period, those numbers together would total $65 billion, which is more than the estimated $62 billion required by the DOT.

Also present during the forum were state Senator Gennaro Bizzarro, representing the 6th senate district (Berlin, Farmington, and New Britain), and Bristol Republican state representatives Cara Pavalock-D’Amato and Whit Betts.

Betts asked those in attend to reach out to state Representative Chris Ziogas (D-Bristol), or other members of the Transportation Committee, in order to gain an understanding of other points of view.

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Taylor Murchison-Gallagher, email her at TMurchison@BristolObserver.com.