Southington’s state legislators split on toll issue

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At a public question-and-answer session on Jan. 29 with Southington’s Republican legislators, Rep. John Fusco (R-80), Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco (R-81) and Sen. Rob Sampson (R-16), members of the audience largely focused on questions regarding the implementation of tolls on Connecticut’s highways.

On Friday, Jan. 31, a public hearing was held at the Capitol on the latest tolls proposal. Late that afternoon, it was confirmed that a special legislative session would not be held to hold a vote on tolls just 48 hours before the 2020 regular legislative session convened.

Recently, in Southington, town council leadership passed an anti-toll resolution, hoping to send a message to the governor that townspeople were not in favor of tolls. The vote passed 6-0-3 with all of the Democratic members of the council abstaining from the vote.

At the Q&A, Sampson encouraged residents to attend the Friday hearing at the capitol.

“If they have a vote, it will pass,” Sampson said. “The number of people who show up will be the show of course. Even if you don’t testify, go.”

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Sampson said tolls are “bad for Connecticut no matter what.”

“It’s not about generating revenue. Connecticut is not broke,” he said. “When I was first elected, the budget was $17 billion ten years ago. Now, it’s $25 billion. It’s growing leaps and bounds.”

He said Connecticut receives $750 million from the federal government for not having tolls. In addition, the state has a high gas tax.

Mastrofrancesco agreed with Sampson. “Creating tolls in Connecticut will put us even further in debt. We need to stop spending,” she said. “We need to find ways to maintain our roads and bridges with what we already have, and not borrow another dime.”

Fusco said there is no way to know how long it will take for tolls to generate a profit after the state pays for construction of toll gantries and hires new staff to manage the finances.

Southington’s Democratic legislators, Rep. Liz Linehan (D-103) and Rep. Joe Aresimowicz (D-31) share differing views on tolls.

“I have said publicly for over a year that I am voting ‘no’ on tolls,” said Linehan. “That was for passenger tolls, and now with the talk of truck-only tolls, I am continuing to vote ‘no.’”

Linehan said she was concerned that Connecticut could be violating interstate commerce laws by proposing truck-only tolls. There is currently an ongoing trial in Rhode Island on the same issue, she said.

“I don’t think it is fiscally prudent that this could get us into a lengthy and expensive court battle,” she said. “However, if truck-only tolls do in fact pass, I don’t believe our work is done. So, I pledge to continue to urge the governor and the leadership of all four caucuses to consider a long-term funding source for transportation.”

Aresimowicz is a supporter of tolls in Connecticut.

“Upgrading our aging transportation infrastructure is critical to our future economy and a top priority of our business community,” he said. “A truck-only toll plan not only protects residents but also allows us to work with the Trump administration to leverage low interest federal dollars to fix our bridges and roads.”

According to Aresimowicz, this plan will lower long-term debt costs while collecting most of the fees from the thousands of out-of-state trucks that inflict “major damage on our roads while passing through our state for free.”

“All we are hearing from Republicans is disinformation with no plan except to pickpocket future taxpayers by raiding the ‘rainy day’ reserve fund or maxing out the state’s credit card,” he added.

Back in December, the Southington Town Council passed a resolution as a message to Gov. Ned Lamont stating that Southington was against tolls. It states that many of Southington residents use Connecticut’s major roadways for daily work commutes, family obligations and pleasure. It states tolls would be a “financial burden to the residents of Southington.”

The three Democratic members of the council abstained from the vote, stating the resolution was not a local issue, and should be handled by the state legislators.

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at News@SouthingtonObserver.com.