HARTFORD — A plan to look at how motorists could be charged a fee for miles driven on Connecticut roads is being met with fierce opposition and accusations of laying the groundwork for a new tax to fund transportation improvements.
|CONNECTICUT GOVERNOR'S AND DEMOCRATS IDEA OF DIVERSITY ...|
Connecticut, along with Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, agreed to participate in a voluntary program to test the system.
Republicans quickly announced their opposition and accused Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of planning a new tax.
“That tax will hit drivers every day,” said state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, and a ranking member on the Legislature’s Transportation Committee.
“It will hit you everywhere you go, even if you are driving to a hospital emergency room,” Boucher said. “Connecticut Republicans will be fighting this mileage tax idea until it stalls permanently, and we invite Connecticut motorists to join us.”
State officials said no one is considering a mileage tax, and stressed the grant application is simply a way to learn more about a levy being discussed across the country.
“We have no intention of moving forward with a mileage-based user fee program,” said Judd Everhart, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.
Not a new idea
The idea of a vehicle mileage tax has come up before as a way to either replace the current gas tax or create another way to fund transportation upgrades.
Gas taxes for years have been failing to keep up with transportation funding demands as less revenue is obtained each year due to increasingly fuel efficient cars.
Last year, the Governor’s Transportation Finance Panel, charged with finding ways to pay for Malloy’s $100 billion plan to improve the state’s highways, bridges and rail systems, included a VMT in its lengthy list of recommendations.“State agencies should be directed to design a volunteer pilot program that looks to potentially one day replace the state fuel tax with a manageable VMT system,” the panel concluded.
Malloy walked away from the idea, and Republicans denounced the tax and vowed to fight it. Democratic leaders — including Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk — also closed the book on a mileage tax, and proposals to place electronic tolls on state highways failed to gain traction.
Everhart said DOT has an “obligation” to apply for federal grant money to study a variety of issues.
“We fight for every dollar available,” Everhart said. “What we are doing, in conjunction with neighboring states, is seeking federal grants so we can be a better department, further understand motorist behavior, and be more efficient and effective in reducing congestion and traffic. That's it.”
If the grant money is awarded, Connecticut and the other states would develop policies and mechanisms necessary to count miles driven. About 50 volunteers, most likely legislators and transportation officials, would receive fake monthly invoices for the miles they drove.California is launching a similar pilot program this summer and Oregon has been collecting mileage fees on a volunteer basis for some time. But the idea is widely unpopular across the nation and in Connecticut, polls have shown.
No new taxes
“More taxes and more burdens on Connecticut drivers is not the way to improve transportation in our state,” said state Senate Minority Leader. Sen. Fasano, R-North Haven.
Devon Puglia, a Malloy spokesman, said the governor is not proposing a mileage tax.
“It’s amazing that Republicans say we are implementing a secret mileage tax, even though we never proposed such a tax,” Puglia said.
Boucher said a mileage tax would inflame state residents already opposed to highway tolls.
“If you thought the idea of tolls was unpopular, just wait until you try to tax Connecticut residents for every single mile they drive,” Boucher said.