March 11, 2019
Other Voices

Tolls, like income tax, will hurt CT’s economy

Joseph R. Sculley

They say those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.

Everyone in Connecticut should study history of the creation of the state income tax, because the state appears on track to being doomed to repeat a bad decision by implementing tolls.

When the income tax was being debated, it was pitched as the only way to restore fiscal stability. Since the new income tax would be created, significant sales-tax cuts were promised, and the sales tax rate was cut to 6 percent. That rate is currently 6.35 percent, but an increase to 7 percent is now on the table. Additionally, the initial income tax rates have also increased since its inception.

Now, tolls are up for debate and are being pitched as the only way to secure revenue for the Special Transportation Fund. There are token offers to slightly cut fuel taxes in exchange for tolls. Tolls inherently increase once they go up, so we know that creation of tolls will be just like creation of the income tax. Once it's there, the rates will only increase.

On the off chance that fuel tax rates are actually cut in conjunction with tolls, I'd be willing to bet that fuel tax rates would find their way back up, just like the sales tax rate has following creation of the income tax.

I will never forget the night I was at a forum held at the UConn Law School about three years ago, when a legislative leader from 1991 bluntly admitted that the idea of a spending cap was only floated to secure votes for the income tax. The income tax was passed, but legislative language implementing a spending cap was not put in place for more than 25 years. The spending cap was essentially meaningless, but it helped push through the income tax.

Within the past year or so, some leaders have suggested that the state should be able to proceed with implementing highway tolls if and when a transportation lockbox was approved. A weak version of a lockbox was approved by voters on Nov. 6, 2018.

Less than four months later, Gov. Ned Lamont is already proposing to violate the spirit of the lockbox, if not the letter of the law, by proposing to stop the transfer of new car sales tax revenue to the Special Transportation Fund (STF). By law, that money is supposed to be deposited in the STF and be protected for transportation spending, but this proposal would do the opposite.

Taking transportation money away from the transportation fund is exactly what the lockbox was supposed to prevent. It is hard to ignore the similarities between the spending cap and the lockbox.

Our state has experienced an economic downturn since the creation of the income tax. It is hard-earned money being taken out of people's pockets, and the government has proven it does not use that money responsibly. Tolls will be hard-earned money that is taken out of people's pockets every day, while they are on the way to work to earn said money.

The government has still not proven that it will use that money responsibly. I have a feeling that charging congestion price tolls (meaning higher prices during high-traffic hours), will lead to an economic downturn, just as the income tax did.

Be aware that toll supporters are attempting several avenues to get tolls through, a process that began with the not-so-locked "lockbox."

One such proposal is to create a quasi-government body called the Transportation Finance Authority, which would then create the tolls.

Do not be fooled by this. Opposing tolls is important for the state of Connecticut's future, and it is critical to prevent Connecticut from repeating history it does not want to repeat.

Joseph R. Sculley is the president of the Motor Transport Association of CT, which represents companies with commercial vehicles traveling state roads.

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