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Did you ask for whom the tolls toll?

Having gotten elected after promising not to increase the state income tax and sales tax while still reducing property taxes, Ned Lamont has to start looking for new money.  

So expect tolls — maybe on those unloved out of state tractor-trailer trucks for a start — but on anything else that rolls along if it turns out that that’s where the money is. An analysis by the state Department of Transportation (DOT) released the other day makes it look as if tolls will be an extremely productive revenue provider — wonderful from just trucks and sublime when you add your car and mine.

With projected state deficits running as high as $4.4 billion in the next two years, the DOT estimate of $1 billion annually from tolls makes their return after 35 years hard to resist for a governor and Legislature charged with fixing the mess their own party helped create.  

Rhode Island is doing nicely charging only out-of-state truckers to use its highways, but the practice is being challenged by the trucking industry on constitutional grounds, as the Commerce Clause seems to make singling out the truckers a problem.

The transportation department may have had that problem in mind when it issued its projection for all vehicles and concluded that 60 percent of that $1 billion a year would come, not from trailer trucks, but from tolls on vehicles owned by the home folks.  

And so, if it turns out states can’t make only out-of-state truckers pay tolls, or the new administration really needs that 60 percent to make its billion, how about tolls for everyone?

It won’t be cheap — especially for commuters. The DOT estimates a typical commute under the lowest rate from Hartford to New Haven would be $2.09 and from Hartford to New York, $3.47. That’s one way, meaning the commute from Hartford to New Haven would cost the commuter $20.90 a week, or about $1000 a year getting to and from work.  

Not terrible if the income and sales tax promise is kept and the governor and Legislature find a way to decrease the commuter’s property taxes a bit. And if you believe that …

Of course, there are other new and exciting ways for a state like this one to raise revenues without calling them tax increases. A new favorite is the legalization and sale of marijuana for recreational purposes. Ten states, including neighboring Massachusetts, are currently into legal pot selling with more to come.

But pot doesn’t begin to approach tolls as a money raiser. The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated last year that a tax and surcharge on recreational weed would bring in $30 to $105 million a year, depending on how much recreation is going on.

Not having pot for sale, though, could be a revenue downer, marijuana advocates warn. Tourism could be hurt when vacationers find recreating in Massachusetts has its advantages.  

This wasn’t a convincing argument for veteran Republican state senator, Toni Boucher, who blocked committee votes to legalize pot by threatening to filibuster. But Boucher was a victim of the blue wave in November and her successor, 22-year-old Will Haskell, strongly favors legal, recreational pot. What a surprise.

There’s another sinful source of revenue Connecticut has been slower than some neighbors in adopting: sports betting. The U.S. Supreme Court enshrined this latest vice in May when it allowed sports betting on a state-by-state basis. States like New Jersey quickly decided to go along and are already collecting a cut of the bettors’ fun and games.

Lamont favors sports betting but the tribes that operate Connecticut’s casinos argue that sports gambling — or gaming, as they would have us call it — is their exclusive property. This is a view not shared by Connecticut’s lawyer, Attorney General George Jepsen, and we are currently in a stalemate mode on this revenue raiser.  

But estimates of revenue from sports betting are even lower than we’ve seen from that other sin tax, legal pot. Non-partisan analysts see the state bringing in a modest $20 million a year, compared to the $30 to $105 million from marijuana sales.

These measly estimates only enhance the lure of tolls. It’s not hard to figure out. The state’s in a multi-billion dollar financial hole. Its people are tired of taxing, and financial failure would doom the new governor to one term — unless the Republicans give Bob Stefanowski a second shot. 

There’s no way out, except tax increases or tolls or maybe both.

So ask not for whom the tolls toll, they toll for thee and me.

 

Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at rahles1@outlook.com.