Web Sites, Documents and Articles >> Hartford Courant News Articles >

Transit Plan Funding Proposed

State, Feds Would Split $5 Billion Cost

March 9, 2006
By CHRISTOPHER KEATING, Capitol Bureau Chief

With three different plans on the table, 2006 is emerging as the year of transportation at the state Capitol.

House Speaker James Amann, D-Milford, Wednesday proposed a $5 billion funding plan to improve railroads, upgrade highways and expand bus service - projects expected to be funded evenly by federal and state funds. The state portion would be $2.5 billion over 10 years in state bonds, which would be paid partially by further increasing the gross receipts tax on petroleum products, beyond already scheduled increases.

The tax would increase to 10.8 percent by 2016, almost doubling the current rate of 5.8 percent. The tax, collected chiefly on gasoline and diesel fuel, was increased from 5 percent in July to help fund Gov. M. Jodi Rell's $1.3 billion transportation plan approved last year.

The gross receipts tax is based on a percentage of wholesale prices, and the current rates are 12 cents a gallon for unleaded gasoline and 13 cents on diesel fuel, said Michael J. Fox, executive director of the state's gasoline retailers association. Under Amann's plan, that tax would increase to 20 cents a gallon for unleaded gasoline and 22 cents for diesel fuel by 2016 at the current prices.

Since the money collected changes as gasoline prices go up and down, the total receipts are highly volatile. They reached their peak last year when gasoline prices spiked above $3 per gallon after Hurricane Katrina rocked the Gulf Coast.

In a rare joint appearance for high-level leaders, Amann testified in front of the legislature's transportation committee Wednesday along with House Majority Leader Christopher Donovan, D-Meriden, and former Speaker Moira Lyons. Lyons, a longtime Stamford lawmaker who became the legislature's key leader on transportation issues, said that the time for studies has long since passed.

"We're actually bellying up to the bar and saying it costs big-time money," Lyons said after the hearing.

Amann and the Democrats say they are being conservative in projecting the federal government to pay for 50 percent of the projects. In the past, federal reimbursement for transportation projects has been about 70 percent, they said.

Amann last month proposed a $6.2 billion transportation upgrade plan but did not provide financing details.

This year's discussion of various plans follows last year's approval of Rell's plan. Now, Republicans and Democrats want to enact "Phase 2" of an ambitious proposal to end the highway gridlock and the economic chokehold that legislators say is threatening job growth around the state. Much of Rell's initial plan was designed to help the Metro-North Commuter Railroad in lower Fairfield County, but the new plans this year have expanded to cover all corners of the state.

Wednesday's activities started off with a rally outside the state Capitol that included about 300 Teamsters, state officials and other union members. Amann got the crowd going at the rally as the leadoff speaker.

"I'm sick and tired of hearing about gridlock!" Amann roared to the crowd. "This is the year, finally, to do something bold on transportation. Are you all with me?"

"Yeah!" the crowd yelled back in unison.

Inside at the hearing, Sen. Biagio "Billy" Ciotto, D-Wethersfield, said he was concerned that the expensive plans must be fully funded by the legislature. Although some lawmakers have broached the subject about creating tolls on the highways, Ciotto said he doubts that will happen.

"Frankly, this is an election year, and we being profiles in courage here, I don't see anyone coming out for tolls," said Ciotto, the transportation co-chairman.

Besides the House Democratic plan, Senate Democrats are proposing a $1.86 billion plan that includes nearly $1 billion for improving the commuter rail system. Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, the highest-ranking senator, wants to spend $400 million to create a commuter line from New London to Worcester that would eventually be connected to the "T" in Boston.

While the plans by Rell, the House Democrats, and the Senate Democrats have differences, they also have key points of agreement - meaning those points are ripest for approval.

They all call for creating a New Haven-to-Hartford-to Springfield commuter line that would include the construction of new railroad stations in Enfield, Newington and North Haven.

All three plans also favor the long-stalled, New Britain-to-Hartford bus way that would cut through Newington and the Elmwood section of West Hartford on its way to Union Station in Hartford.

Rell's budget director, Robert Genuario, said the various plans have differences, but he believes that all sides have a broad general agreement that the state needs to improve its extensive network of roads, bridges and railways. He said he expects a final agreement before the legislative session ends on May 3.

"It's absolutely doable," Genuario said. "This should happen."

Rep. Cameron Staples, D-New Haven, the co-chairman of the tax-writing finance committee, agreed that the Democrats are flexible about compromising on the details. "We are ready and willing to talk about alternatives," Staples said. "We're all ears."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
Powered by Hartford Public Library  

Includes option to search related Hartford sites.

Advanced Search
Search Tips

Can't Find It? Have a Question?