Tolling for trucks on Connecticut’s highways has been front and center in Connecticut’s governor race between Democrat Ned Lamont and Republican Bob Stefanowski. Lamont is looking to balance the state’s projected $4 billion budget deficit with tolls which Stefanowski adamantly opposes. Lamont is part of a growing contingent of politicians and “advocates” who falsely claim that trucks don’t pay their fair share. Joseph Sculley, president of Motor Transport Association of Connecticut (MTAC) points out that truck pay more than their fair share, with out-of-state trucks already paying $30 million annually to the state.
“Out-of-state trucks do not travel through Connecticut for free,” Sculley said. “They pay for the diesel fuel they use while traveling in our state, regardless of where it was purchased, and they pay a share of Connecticut vehicle registration fees based on their travels in our state, regardless of where the truck is based.” (CT News Junkie) The average Connecticut-based 18-wheel tractor trailer pays more than $17,000 annually in state and federal road taxes, Sculley said.
Lamont’s tolling plan comes on the heels of Rhode Island’s truck only tolls and Pennsylvania looking to do the same. In New York, some politicians are looking to place a ring of tolls around Manhattan to raise funds for New York City’s subway system. In its last iteration, New York’s plan known as “congestion pricing” sought to charge trucks over $25 for simply coming into Manhattan. With talk of tolls in so many jurisdictions within a day’s drive of New York City its easy to see how the cost of transporting goods and services along the East Coast will skyrocket. It’s naive to think these costs will not have an economic impact on small businesses and consumers.
What’s behind the push for tolling in Connecticut and other jurisdictions? Sadly, politicians are seduced by high-tech firms’ claims that we don’t need major staffing for toll collection. They believe we can just put a couple of plate readers on the road and collect revenue. But even with these high-tech solutions tolls are grossly inefficient with about 30% (advocates claim more like 20%) of revenue going to build the system, monitor it, collect, and disperse the revenue. In most jurisdictions private companies are hired to build and run the tolls and to collect the revenue. Conduent, which runs EZ Pass in New York and other states just paid their top three executives salary and perks of $21 million. Where did that money come from? On the Tappan Zee Bridge (Mario Cuomo) in the last reporting period more money was collected in violations and penalties than in tolls. This what politicians mean when they say “Public-Private Partnerships”. It is a dog whistle for crony capitalism and shady dealings.
Another reason politicians love tolls is that they get to create new agencies to administer the windfall. These agencies, with their own government appointed boards are stacked with friends and contributors whose interests may not match those of the public. Often toll revenue is used to leverage new public debt. Then, yet new agencies are created to spend the borrowed money. Talk about creative accounting!
Don’t forget safety and local commerce. If Connecticut’s highways are tolled for trucks many will seek to use local streets to avoid the tolls. More traffic and more accidents will ensue. Local congestion will hurt the businesses that depend on passing drivers for their livelihoods. Roll Call reports that a study conducted in North Carolina by NCDOT that estimates that between 2014 and 2050, diversion around tolls on I-95 in that state would cost about $1.1 billion dollars in revenue to businesses within a mile of the I-95 corridor.
Tolls increase the cost of delivering goods and services, put local businesses at a competitive disadvantage, and increase the cost of living for residents. Trucks provide everything from food, to clothes, to building materials, and medicine. We strongly suggest politicians take a route other than tolling to balance their deficits.