Connecticut Republicans offer plan to fund transportation overhaul, say new tolls not needed

Republican legislators on Tuesday proposed a 30-year, $37.4 billion plan to pay for the overhaul of Connecticut's transportation system as proposed by Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, saying they can do it without installing tolls or increasing taxes.

The plan was unveiled about a week before Malloy will present his two-year budget and transportation initiative to the General Assembly.

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"We're finding a way to do it, and a way each and every one of you do it in your homes," said House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby. "You have to figure out what you need. You have to figure out how you're going to pay for it. And you have to figure out at the end of the day, we're not in debt for the next 100 years."

Both Senate and House Republicans propose dedicating a set amount of bonds to be used solely for transportation projects, starting with $441.5 million in fiscal year 2016. That would complement the approximate $600 million in bonding already spent annually for transportation.

Some Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Tony Guerrera, co-chairman of the legislature's Transportation Committee, suggest tolls may be needed to raise revenues. Guerrera said improving fuel efficiency has led to a drop in revenue from the state's gas tax, which is used to pay for the $600 million in annual bonding.

"No one likes the concept of higher taxes or even, say, electronic tolling," he said. "So we have to realize, we live in a day and age right now where vehicles are getting better gas mileage, they're electric. One way to ... fix our roads and bridges is electronic tolling."

But Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said "tolls don't work," claiming no state has added them to existing highways. Also, he questioned whether the revenue generated from tolls would be enough to even recoup the cost of creating and maintaining the tolling system.

Malloy spokesman Devon Puglia criticized the GOP plan for not prioritizing projects. He also said the proposed funding levels would likely finance the status quo. Republicans, however, said they would leave it up to the experts to prioritize projects.