By Jim Cameron
What’s the fairest way to pay for our highways?
Any regular reader of this column knows I’ve been in favor of tolls for many years. Let’s just say that stance didn’t win me any friends… or help make tolls a reality in Connecticut.
Why do I still support tolls? Because they’re a user fee. The people who use the roads pay for them. Those that don’t drive, don’t pay. That seems fair.
A gasoline tax is also a user fee… unless you’re one of the 21,000 Connecticut residents driving an electric car. Sure, they pay for their “juice” but nothing for driving on our roads. And with electric car sales projected to soar, that leaves gasoline-powered motorists paying for the Tesla-crowd. That’s not fair. (Full disclosure: I drive a Prius hybrid, so I’m half-guilty).
Of course, nobody likes a tax they have to pay. “Tax the other guy… the trucker, the out-of-state driver… just not me,” seems to be the refrain.
All of the alternatives for funding the state’s transportation future were studied in 2015 by Governor Malloy’s blue-ribbon Transportation Finance Panel which said we’d need tolls, a gasoline and sales tax increase, parking fee increases and other revenue sources to keep the roads in good shape.
But one of the funding ideas they wanted to include was blocked by the Connecticut legislature: a Vehicle Miles Tax (VMT). The idea is simple: the more miles you drive, the more you pay.
But so controversial was that idea that nervous legislators, even Governor Malloy’s fellow democrats, passed a bill prohibiting the CDOT from using state funds to even study a VMT.
Why? Because the “No Tolls CT” folks saw a VMT as just another kind of toll. And the No-Tollers threatened to unseat any lawmaker up for re-election that defied them. Their threats worked. Our lawmakers were cowards.
But guess what CDOT is about to undertake? That’s right… a study of VMT!
While this may defy the intent of the legislature, they’re getting away with it because it won’t be state money used for this study but federal funds. And it’s technically not CDOT’s study but The Eastern Transportation Coalition’s, the Vice Chairman of which just happens to be CDOT Commissioner Garrett Eucalitto.
Up to 150 Connecticut drivers are now being recruited to track their mileage in-and-out of state (using an automatic GPS tracker) though October. They are being offered a $100 gift card incentive for participation. Those too paranoid to let Big Brother know where they’re driving can also participate minus the GPS.
The reaction to the study has been swift and negative. I can’t even repeat much of what’s been posted in social media but, to my eye, much of it is based on misinformation, especially about the GPS tracking.
The GPS tracking is only to delineate in-state vs out-of-state driving. Your cellphone (and Google) and your EZ-pass already track your movements so, get over it: we have no privacy.
A VMT (or MBUF – Mileage Based User Fee) makes sense and is widely used in Europe. It’s fair and should be part of Connecticut’s future, too.
Jim Cameron is founder of the Commuter Action Group and advocates for Connecticut rail riders. His weekly column “Talking Transportation” is archived here. You can contact Jim at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com.”