Pizza and politics: Lawmakers share a slice, discuss tolls and taxes

State Sen. Henri Martin (R), center, and State Rep. Dr. Bill Petit Jr. (R), right, spoke to community members at West Main Pizza and reviewed the recent legislation passed by the General Assembly. (Photo by Janelle Morelli)

By TAYLOR MURCHISON-GALLAGHER

STAFF WRITER

State Sen. Henri Martin and State Rep. William Petit Jr. shared a slice with their constituents last week and discussed what has been happening at the state capitol. Of the many topics discussed, Plainville residents kept circling back to two in particular—the increased grocery tax and tolls.

As of Tuesday, Oct. 1, the Connecticut Sales and Use Tax was increased from 6.35% to 7.35%. The Department of Revenue Services released a policy statement that reads, “The sale of all meals, regardless of cost, is subject to sales and use taxes at the rate of 6.35% for sales occurring on and before Monday, Sept. 30, 2019, and at the rate of 7.35% for sales occurring on and after Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019.”

Petit explained that discussions about the increase stemmed from talks about increasing the tax in restaurants by 1%. Those funds would have been allocated to municipalities “because towns can’t raise funds unless they raise property taxes, so they were thinking about having teachers pensions come down to towns and regionalization,” according to the representative.

That idea eventually fell to the wayside, and after many discussions and a special session, the 1% increase was passed.

“Essentially what we’re doing is increasing the restaurant tax, so anything you paid for that was taxed at 6.35% is now taxed at 7.35%, we’re not taxing anything new,” said Petit.

Martin, a ranking member on the transportation committee, said this was the fifth year that tolls had been presented. He and State Rep. Laura Devlin (R-134, Fairfield and Trumbull) created a grassroots effort around the state Republican’s solution to the tolls suggestion—“Prioritize Progress.”

Martin and Devlin brought the “Prioritize Progress” presentation to Bristol in March, where they explained that since about 2015, Connecticut has spent approximately $17 million on studies regarding tolling, and thus, the state has entered into a value pricing pilot program. Devlin said that meant if the state goes forward with tolls, the only way it would be feasible would be to implement congestion pricing, 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.

The Republican-backed “Prioritize Progress” 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 burden to the people of Connecticut,” Martin explained during the presentation.

“It started with 82 gantries (or toll booths) throughout the whole state on various routes—15, 95, 91, 84, RT 9, RT 691, RT 8—it was all over the place, every six miles we were going to have a toll booth,” said Martin.

Recently, Martin explained, members of Connecticut’s legislature met with The Build America Bureau to discuss two programs: RRIF (Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing) and TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act)

“The governor right now is looking for an overall plan that would address the rail system, the bridges, the roads, along with the airports,” said Martin. “We have not seen that yet, but in short, the loan programs are—the RRIF is 100% financing at, like, less than 2% loan, compared to bonding that you currently bond 4 to 4.5% I think for the state. The roads and bridges are also less than 2%, they’re about 33% financing, up to 45 to 49% amount that they’ll loan us.”

Other topics of discussion included the recent increase to the state minimum wage, a proposed bill that would offer later start times for students at the elementary level, a bill that would address posttraumatic stress disorders in first responders, and a possible tax for digital downloads.

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