Todd Brown


Fiscal Responsibility



This may not seem like an important issue to many of District 29's citizens, but I think it should be. Returning tolls to Connecticut's Interstates show several flawed thought processes. On the surface it sounds great charging out of state vehicles money to traverse Connecticut's road, but on closer look the plan fails to make sense.

My opponent, Tony Guerrera, the chairman of the Transportation Committee, likes to be referred to as Mr. Toll at the Capital because of his obsession with the idea of raising more tax revenue by returning tolls to Connecticut's interstate system. He won't call it a tax he refers to this a new revenue stream.

First off his proposal is to put toll plazas on each interstate at each of Connecticut borders. In this case the toll is being used as a tax on people crossing the Connecticut border. How I hear this proposal is the state of Connecticut has taxed its citizens as far as it dares to tax and is now looking for ways to bring in more tax dollars by taking money from residents of other states. A fair estimate would be half the people crossing the border are Connecticut residents, so the toll isn't going to affect just out of state travelers.

Rhode Island recently asked to put a toll on Interstate 95 near the Connecticut border. The federal government said no. Federal policy right now is not to allow any existing roads to add tolls to them. Connecticut could ignore the federal government and install tolls, but we would forfeit our federal gasoline tax money and the federal Department of Transportation would not give the state any money for road projects. That should be reason enough to stop pursuing tolls.

We have been assured that the toll money would be used exclusively for Connecticut's roads. Tony Guerrera has said he would introduce a law that the toll money would only be used for the roads. Remember when the lottery was introduced, we were told the money generated would be used for education. Now the money goes into the state's general fund. Any law the legislature can pass it can also repeal. Do not count on all if any of the toll money going for roads work.

Tony Guerrera's toll plan calls for at speed toll plazas. His idea is every car will have a transponder linked to a credit card. As you drive through the toll plaza at highway speed your credit card will get billed $5.00. The problem is transponders have been available in Massachusetts for more than ten years but less than half the cars on the Mass Pike use them. Drive interstate 84 into Massachusetts on a summer weekend and the toll plaza is packed with cars waiting to get tickets. An easy, but not scientific, poll would be to count ten cars at a rest plaza in Massachusetts and see how many have transponders. The results will not be close to all ten cars, so there needs to be a provision for cars without transponders. There are drive thru toll plazas in New Jersey and Illinois, but alongside the plazas are traditional toll booths. Tony Guerrera's solution is to take pictures of the license plates and mail the cars without transponders a bill for the toll. He does not say if he wants to increase the size of state government by having state employees process the pictures or if he wants to contract out the work. Either way the state will not collect the full five dollars because of the cost of generating the bill and the cost of postage both ways. And there is no mention of a collection mechanism for people that don't return their toll payment. Many cars have license plate frames that illegally block the name of the state. With so many varieties of license plate backgrounds, those cars would travel toll free. My wife has a legal license plate frame; the word Connecticut is not obscured, but printed below Connecticut on the frame in bigger, brighter red letters it says Nebraska. Needless to say any photo recognition software would attempt to send her toll bill to Nebraska. Except we own a GPS.

Connecticut's roads are not designed for to be toll roads. Our exits are very close together. In the era of GPS's it only takes a push of a button to have your route avoid toll roads. To save a five dollar toll would you be willing to spend five minutes to take a route off the highway around the toll plaza?

To summarize our roads are not designed to be toll roads, a GPS can easily route you around a toll plaza. Being creative with a license plate frame will let you avoid a toll. And we would still pay our federal gasoline tax but never get a cent of return from it. Even with that information Tony Guerrera submitted HB 6136 to establish tolls on the interstates. The bill that requires the Commissioner of Transportation to give him monthly updates on any progress on installing tolls.

Do not get me wrong, if the state were to finish route 11, I would gladly pay a toll to use that road until the tolls pay for the road. But that is new construction and the federal government is OK with tolls on new roads.

My other problem with tolls to pay for roads is Connecticut already has the highest gasoline tax in the nation. Our state government taxes gasoline twice, on the wholesale level and at the pumps. With the highest gas tax in the country why don't we have enough money for road repair?

Vermont has roughly 325 miles of interstate roads with no tolls. The population of Vermont is roughly 626,000 and they have gas taxes that total less than 23 cents.

New Hampshire has roughly 224 miles of interstate roads. There is a two dollar toll on Interstate 95 and a one dollar toll on interstate 93. The population of New Hampshire is roughly 1,318,000 and they have gas taxes that total less than 20 cents.

Connecticut has roughly 358 miles of interstate roads. The population of Connecticut is roughly 3,580,000 and our gas taxes total 52 cents and the gross receipt tax on gasoline is scheduled to go from 7% to 8.1 percent in July 2013.

Connecticut has roughly the same interstate mileage as Vermont and six times the population buying gasoline. Even though Vermont has no tolls and less than half the gas tax they still manage to pay for their roads' upkeep.

Connecticut has roughly 50% more interstate roads than New Hampshire and almost three times the population buying gasoline. New Hampshire does have a small toll presence on their roads, but New Hampshire has less than half of Connecticut's gas taxes as well as no sales tax or income tax.

It could be easy to draw the conclusion that Connecticut's DOT is wasteful with the gas tax money. In reality the gas tax money does not go to the DOT for our roads, but gets spent on other departments. Tolls would just be a Band-Aid for Connecticut's current spending problems; eventually the toll money would go into the pit that is the State's general fund. Remember "Spend no more than you earn."

It is time for fresh voices in Hartford to fix the state's spending problem. We do not need representatives with the courage to raise taxes.