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OPINION: The clock is winding down on tolls

OPINION: The clock is winding down on tolls



By Len Suzio

The clock is winding down on Connecticut’s “Super Toll” debate and the Team Lamont is running out of time to get their plan across the goal line. Desperate to get any points on the board before time runs out, Team Lamont unleashed a trick play in the form of a deceptive press release last Friday (1/17).

The press release was intended to mislead the public about the history of state government’s Special Transportation Fund and convince the public that during many years the General Assembly had to take billions of dollars from the General Fund to pay for transportation expenses.

Adding to the deception (and to appeal to the sympathies of the public), the press release claimed that three previous governors (but not Governor Lamont), “used the General Fund and revenues meant to support municipal aid, education, and nonprofits … to pay for transportation infrastructure.” The press release piled on its claims: “This practice robbed social service providers of needed funds and shortchanged our communities.”

Trying to add authority to their claims, Team Lamont attached an “analysis” developed by the state Office of Policy and Management purportedly proving the claims of the press release with a table showing transfers between the General Fund and the Special Transportation Fund.

This would be a powerful argument if it were completely true. But it is a half-truth. Worse, by omitting a very important fact, the press release was extremely misleading.

What vital fact did the press release omit? It did not acknowledge that $4.1 billion of petroleum gross receipts taxes were placed directly into the General Fund before they could get to the Special Transportation Fund for the first 14 years of the current century. All that money should have gone directly to the STF.

But for decades the legislature had been using gas taxes to support General Fund spending. The legislature did this by taking the revenue from the petroleum gross receipts taxes (one of the two state gas taxes you pay at the pump) and depositing it all directly into the General Fund.

Most people would assume that gas taxes go toward maintaining our roads and bridges. But this is not true with the petroleum gross receipts taxes. From 2000 to 2015, the legislature took in $4.1 billion from petroleum gross receipts taxes, put all that revenue into the General Fund, and transferred barely half of it to the Special Transportation Fund.

The legislature finally realized that continually raiding gas taxes to pay for General Fund expenditures hampered maintenance of roads and bridges. So beginning in 2015 the legislature required that all revenue from the petroleum gross receipts tax be placed directly in the Special Transportation Fund.

When the background here is revealed, the deceit of the Team Lamont’s press release becomes apparent. Yes, technically, billions of tax dollars were transferred from the General Fund to the Special Transportation Fund. But that money never was deposited first in the Special Transportation Fund as it should have been. Much gas tax money was used for general purposes, not transportation.

Funding for education, social services, and municipal aid was never diverted to the Special Transportation Fund. It was transportation money — billions of dollars raised by the petroleum gross receipts tax — that was diverted to education, social services, and municipal aid.

The truth is exactly the opposite of what Team Lamont claimed last week. 

Len Suzio is former Republican state senator from Meriden and former vice chair of the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee.

 


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