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June 6, 2016 Other Voices

CT should create highway trust fund

Joseph R. Sculley

In the 2016 legislative session, the legislature considered creating a “lockbox,” a proposal that would have amended the Connecticut Constitution to protect transportation funds. In theory, the proposal would have ensured that “transportation revenues” that are deposited in the Special Transportation Fund would only be spent on “transportation purposes.”

However, the term “transportation” is quite broad, and it should be carefully examined in the context of this fund.

An examination of the Special Transportation Fund reveals a fundamental flaw. The transportation revenues that are deposited into the fund are comprised almost entirely of taxes and fees on cars and trucks. Yet transportation purposes funded by the Special Transportation Fund are not limited to the roads and bridges used by cars and trucks, they also include rail and transit.

According to Federal Highway Administration data, less than 20 percent of Connecticut car and truck taxes and fees like fuel taxes (highway user fees) is spent on highways. That is the smallest percentage of any state. The rest is spent on transit or other general purposes.

Connecticut has some of the highest state fuel taxes in the country, but when considering that very little of that state tax revenue is put back into highways, it should beg the question as to why the fuel taxes are so high.

Interstate truckers passing through Connecticut pay their share of fuel use taxes to Connecticut based on how many miles they have driven in the state and how much fuel they consume in the state, regardless of where they purchased the fuel. Yet, apparently, most of that state fuel tax revenue is not invested back into the roads on which these trucking companies are engaged in interstate commerce, moving America's goods.

Passenger-car drivers can simply fill up in a neighboring state that has lower fuel taxes and drive right through Connecticut.

Connecticut should create a Highway Trust Fund, like the federal government and many other states have, and ensure that fuel-tax revenues are deposited in the fund, and only spent on pay-as-you-go highway projects, or for transportation (highway) bond debt service. This will force more state highway user fee revenue to be invested into highways.

The businesses that deliver America's goods, and the residents of Connecticut who sit in traffic on the state's congested highways, deserve to have more of their state highway user fees like fuel taxes invested in improving the state's highway system.

If Connecticut is going to improve its transportation infrastructure, the state must focus on highways, in addition to other modes. This focus should include not only maintenance and potential expansion, but the taxes that are paid to fund these things, and how those taxes are spent.

Simply claiming that increased spending on rail and transit will ease congestion because doing so takes drivers off the road is not a strong argument.

The Federal Highway Administration data shows that Connecticut already spends most of its state highway user fees on rail and transit, yet the state still suffers from terrible traffic congestion on our highways. If the spending of state highway user fees on transit was guaranteed to ease congestion, Connecticut wouldn't have the traffic problems it does.

The state needs increased highway investment to ease congestion. That is why the state should create a Highway Trust Fund in order to ensure that Connecticut's highways, roads and bridges receive the proper attention and funding that they deserve.

Joseph R. Sculley is the president of the Motor Transport Association of CT.

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