The transportation committee agreed to raise the issue, but there’s no sign that opposition has weakened.
Republican legislators and some Democrats have spent the past several years resisting the idea of highway tolls, but the committee agreed Monday to give the topic a hearing during this legislative session.
Lawmakers also indicated there’s been little or no change in the partisan split over the possibility of a mileage tax. Republicans said even considering the idea would be foolish, and are trying to block spending $300,000 to study it. Democrats countered that Connecticut’s aging highways and bridges need costly maintenance — and the state should look into all ways to pay for it.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is expected to give a harsh assessment of the state’s financial position when he proposes a two-year budget in February, and toll advocates believe the prospect of huge deficits ahead will lead lawmakers to reconsider their thinking.
Rep. Tony Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, co-chairman of the committee, has emphasized that modern electronic tolls don’t use booths, attendants or coins and don’t require drivers to slow down. He also says there might be a way to refund some of the cost to Connecticut drivers who must pass a toll in their commute to work.
But Republican Sen. Toni Boucher of Wilton, committee co-chairwoman, hasn’t moved away from her solid opposition. She and other Republican legislative leaders insist the state can rebuild failing bridges and other infrastructure while expanding transit systems without a massive infusion of new revenue.
“Tolls would be another tax. For commuters, it would amount to a reduction in their pay,” Boucher said Monday.
The committee generally hears virtually all relevant bills that are proposed, so Monday’s action isn’t a measure of the toll bill’s chances of passing. The committee in February will schedule a hearing.
So far, there’s been little sign of enthusiasm for developing a mileage-based tax on Connecticut drivers, but Democrats and Republicans remain split about whether to examine the idea.
“I’m not a big fan of this,” Guerrera said. “But I get that we’re only talking about a study.”
Malloy last year said Connecticut would pay $300,000 toward a regional study of instituting a tax based on how many miles each driver travels in a year.
The idea is that those who drive the most — notably commercial drivers — would pay heavily, while those who use their cars for short and few trips would pay little. Republicans support legislation to block the study, saying Connecticut would never want such a tax.
“We know this doesn’t work. It would be an experimental tax,” said Joseph Sculley, head of the state’s trucking lobby. “Twenty other states have repealed this because it was too expensive to administer, because it discriminated against interstate commerce or because it was just evaded.”
Opponents say it would be impossible to tax out-of-state drivers, and that Connecticut motorists who drove in other states could be unfairly penalized. Any GPS-based tracking system would raise major privacy issues, opponents said.
Sculley said Connecticut has more practical ways to raise revenue.
“I don’t think technology is the answer,” he said. “You need a huge bureaucracy to try to enforce it.”
The committee isn’t expected to advance bills or vote them down until later in the legislative season.