Connecticut’s historic transportation initiative that uses sales tax revenue gets mixed reviews

Connecticut will fund an historic transportation initiative by using half a cent of the state’s 6.35 percent sales tax, a move that was praised by a construction group but criticized by some Republican lawmakers.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy reached a budget agreement with the House and Senate over the weekend with what included the largest investment in transportation in state history, the Democratic governor said.

The budget includes a $2.8 billion increase for infrastructure over the next five years. In total over the next five years, approximately $10 billion will be spent on transportation between this budget, planned capital spending, and federal funds.

Don Shubert, president of the Wethersfield-based Connecticut Construction Industries Association hailed Malloy’s efforts. “We give the governor credit for getting out in the field and talking to folks about the state’s transportation needs.”

That said, Shubert has been critical of the administration for slow progress and the Connecticut Department of Transportation’s conservative approach to planning road, bridge and infrastructure projects.

"We've been critical that their funding is not aggressive enough, but their conservative approach is paying off in this instance," Shubert said.

The American Society of Civil Engineers has given the entire country’s crumbling infrastructure system a D- grade, and Shubert said he would grade Connecticut’s infrastructure the same.

He added it would take time for the new monies to come from the transfer of state taxes. “In three to five years, it’s really going to make a difference; we’re thrilled the governor is looking at this long term.”

Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, ranking member of the transportation committee, was critical of the proposal and said while the state waits on new monies to come from taxes, transportation will actually be underfunded.

“The Office of Fiscal Analysis has reported that the governor’s plan actually underfunds the transportation fund in fiscal year 2016 to the tune of $32.4 million,” she said in a written statement to TI News Daily.

Currently, the Connecticut economy unnecessarily loses billions of dollars per year in lost productivity because of its inability to properly plan for and invest in upgrades to infrastructure.

With this agreement, Connecticut will spend $613 million for highways, $281 million for bridges, $101 million for bicycle and pedestrian trails, and $43 million on bus service, a 25 percent expansion. The also budget provides for replacing the major highway interchange in Waterbury and the Hartford Interstate 84 viaduct.

Boucher agrees with the governor that Connecticut loses billions of dollars annually in economic output as a result of aging infrastructure. But she said she found it “puzzling” that given the long list of issues surrounding the state’s roads, bridges and rail, that the budget plan also essentially diverts some money from the special transportation fund.