Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont announced Wednesday he is dropping his plan for highway tolls for trucks, expressing frustration with legislative leaders who have delayed a vote on the issue.
The Democratic-controlled General Assembly had planned to vote Thursday on the tolls, which were under consideration to fund a wide-ranging transportation improvement plan. But Lamont, also a Democrat, said the Senate informed him that it needed more time, once again.
"I've got a Legislature that doesn't want to make a choice," Lamont said at a news conference. "I think it's time to take a pause."
Tolls on trucks had been projected to raise an estimate $200 million annually. Lamont said he plans for now to generate that money instead through state borrowing to help finance his roughly $19 billion 2030 transportation improvement plan.
"I hate to do it this way. It's bonding in place of other things that are priorities," he said. "But right now, there's no other option on the table."
As Lamont was talking to reporters, the Senate Democrats issued a statement saying the caucus was "still confident" it will have the necessary number of votes to pass a transportation plan with 12 toll gantries on 18-wheeler trucks only. In a joint statement, Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven, and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said they had only asked for five more days because the senators needed that time to prepare for an anticipated two-day, 30-hour debate over tolls.
"We are prepared to hold a session next week to vote on a bill to make the necessary transportation improvements for Connecticut's economic development, residents and businesses," they said.
Minority Republican leaders were doubtful the issue of tolls, which has hounded Lamont and his administration since the former businessman first took office in January 2019, will be resurrected for a vote during this legislative session, which ends in May. But they didn't rule out the issue returning next year.
"Nothing's dead in this building," said Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, of North Haven. "Back up again this session? I might be a little bit surprised. Back up again in 2021, I think you could probably bank on it."
Some House Democrats expressed disappointment about Lamont's announcement he's not going to push ahead with tolls.
"This is crazy - let's vote on the plan," tweeted Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport. "Continuing to kick the can down the road and borrowing even more money 100% on the backs of CT taxpayers is what got us in this mess to start with."