Fran Mayko and Amy Parmenter: Connecticut needs transportation lockbox

May 1, 2017 GMT

Thirty years ago, when Connecticut’s Special Transportation Fund was first established, the idea was a good one: the state would use gas tax receipts to finance much-needed investments in our transportation infrastructure.

But over the last few decades, the fund has been used for purposes other than transportation — specifically to balance the state’s budget because of our growing deficit.

As a result, our statewide transportation infrastructure has suffered greatly. And this, in turn, continues to hinder our economic growth and stymie our ability to attract and retain business.

Connecticut faces serious financial challenges in financing a viable statewide transportation infrastructure through this fund. As gas tax receipts dwindle because people are driving less and more efficient cars travel our roadways, we can no longer depend upon this fund to finance much-needed road and bridge repairs.

This fact serves as a basis for many lawmakers who support tolls on interstates — arguably a debate for another time.

But no matter how transportation-related money is raised, it still would make good fiscal sense to return to the fund’s original purpose.

For many Connecticut motorists — many who are voters — raising transportation funds through tolls, mileage fees, or congestion pricing are unpopular pills to swallow.

Going forward, they need — and want — assurances that transportation-related revenue won’t be used for purposes other than transportation. There can be no talk of tolls, mileage fees, congestion pricing or any other method to raise money until lawmakers pass a constitutional amendment calling for a Transportation lockbox.

Several resolutions, calling for such an amendment, are now winding their individual ways through a legislative path to debate, then passage.

A lockbox, however, isn’t a new idea. In fact, within the last year, voters in in New Jersey and Illinois have passed laws, dedicating their state’s gas taxes for transportation. Similar protective measures were passed in Maryland and Wisconsin three years earlier.

In all these states, voters have sent clear messages to lawmakers: money raised for transportation funding must be spent only for transportation funding.

In Connecticut, the idea of a lockbox continues to gain traction. In fact, AAA Northeast has found that 8 in 10 Connecticut drivers support a law that prohibits the state from using transportation-related revenue for other purposes. This figure — 81 percent of drivers — has been consistent over the last two years in the club’s surveys.

The devil is in the details, however, so it’s imperative Connecticut lawmakers develop a thoughtful, thorough, enforceable law where the language is clear as to what is meant by “transportation purposes,” and clearly identifies what types of fund receipts would be protected from diversion.

The time is right to pass a resolution to stop government from rifling a fund that was created with the sole purpose of transportation in mind.

For Connecticut, that will mean safer roads, more secure bridges and a transportation infrastructure that helps reduce traffic, support business and move the state forward.

Fran Mayko is public affairs specialist for AAA Northeast, whose territory in Connecticut covers a Fairfield, Litchfield and New Haven Counties, home to more than a half-million AAA members. Amy Parmenter is the public affairs manager for AAA Allied Group, whose territory in Connecticut covers Hartford, Middlesex, New London, Tolland and Windham Counties, home to more than a half-million AAA members.