The Republican caucuses of Connecticut's House and Senate have proposed a transportation bonding plan that sets up a possible showdown with Gov. Dannel Malloy over politically volatile highway tolling.
Malloy, a Democrat narrowly re-elected last fall, is scheduled to present his two-year budget and transportation initiative to the General Assembly on Wednesday.
Republicans want to earmark a set amount of general obligation bonds solely for transportation purposes, starting with $441 million in fiscal 2016 and increasing the amount to $708 million by fiscal 2025. Additionally, they propose $600 million annually on special tax obligation bonds, also through 2025.
No tolls or tax increases and a funding mechanism guaranteeing at least $1 billion annually are noteworthy benefits to the plan, say Republican leaders.
"A lot of people who do not want to see their taxes and tolls go up like our plan. Gov. Malloy is not so enamored," Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said in an interview. "Our proposal is still getting off the ground. It's percolating. People have a choice."
The GOP proposal would also fill all vacant positions at the Department of Transportation. As of Jan. 1, the department is down 114 positions from six months earlier. Also proposed is the re-establishment of the Transportation Safety Board to work alongside the DOT.
Fasano said the move would reduce the current level of state borrowing and make the setting of transportation priorities flexible.
"Our transportation commissioner [James Redeker] is highly respected on both sides of the aisle," said Fasano. "Our plan provides a stable, predictable source of revenue so he can do what he needs to do."
Malloy said he would support tolls on Connecticut highways provided a lockbox account prevents funding raids. A National Conference of State Legislatures survey of lawmakers throughout the U.S. in 2013 called such raids — often to balance general fund budgets — a major concern.
Democrats outnumber the GOP in both branches of the General Assembly — 21-15 in the Senate and 87-64 in the House — but lost 10 seats in the House and one in the Senate last November. "A number of Democrats were in very close races, some with recounts," said Fasano. "And those people in close races might rethink any proposal that includes a tax increase."
Highway tolling for years has been a political football in Connecticut, where two 1983 tragedies have shaped toll and highway-maintenance discussions for years: a tollgate crash that killed seven people in Stratford, and the Mianus River Bridge collapse, when a 100-foot chunk of northbound Interstate 95 - the Connecticut Turnpike — in Greenwich fell off and created an open pit, killing three motorists who fell 70 feet below.
Connecticut removed tolls from the turnpike in 1985. Restoring tolls would need federal approval.
Fasano, emphasizing that the state's infrastructure is deteriorating, cited a Federal Highway Report in June 2014 that said 413 of the state's 4,200 bridges — 10% — are structurally deficient and a further 1,059 are functionally obsolete.
"We're talking about improvements necessary to keep Connecticut's residents safe," he said.