Viewpoint: Smith hopeful legislators can 'form a sensible solution that will actually fund the STF'

State Rep. Richard Smith (R-108th)

State Rep. Richard Smith (R-108th)

Contributed Photo / Contributed Photo

There has been a great deal of discussion around the Capitol lately about the necessity of implementing a state-wide tolling system.

The governor and the Democrat leadership have been clamoring for tolls as a solution for funding our transportation needs while simultaneously diverting money earmarked for the Special Transportation Fund (STF).

Funding had been available to pay for road and bridge projects but was ultimately diverted by legislative Democrats and the Governor to pay for other items in the budget.

$171 million was diverted from the STF in the 2020-2021 biennium budget, defying the law that was enacted through the passage of the bipartisan budget in 2017.

Part of the reason I supported the 2017 budget was that the legislation prevented money collected from the state's vehicle tax revenue from being used for other line-items within the General Fund, which was further bolstered by the Constitutional Lockbox passed by the voters.

In 2017, the legislature approved the overall phase-in of vehicle tax revenue to the STF.

Currently, the vehicle tax revenue is collected and deposited directly into the General Fund.

For those dollars to go to the STF, legislative action is required to appropriately allocate the earmarked resources.

The legislative majority has not taken the appropriate action to move the allocated transportation dollars to the STF.

A similar practice occurred with the collection of the gas tax.

From 2000 to 2015, the State took in $4.1 billion in gas tax revenue, but only deposited about half into the STF.

All residents should be aware of this deceptive budgeting practice while considering transportation pitches that depend on additional revenue from tolls. Clearly, based on past practice, there is no guarantee that the money collected from tolls will actually go to the roads.

While it is true that the Democratic leadership and the Governor did allocate some vehicle tax income from the General Fund to the STF in the recently enacted biennial budget, it was not at the required 33 percent, in 2020, and 56 percent, in 2021.

Initially, Governor Lamont brazenly sought to freeze the transfer amount at 8%, when he released his first budget proposal in 2019, which would have resulted in short-changing the STF by $1.19 billion.

Ultimately, in 2020, he decreased the amount of the transfer from the required 33 percent to 17 percent, and in 2021 from the required 56 percent down to 25 percent, which results in $171 million less for transportation projects.

Instead, these funds have been misappropriated to Democrats pet projects while deceiving taxpayers that more revenue must be raised through tolls to provide the undeniably much needed road and bridge repairs.

So much for the Constitutional Lockbox enacted in 2019.

Since the vehicle tax revenue was never deposited into the STF, despite prior legislation mandating such, the governor and Democrat leadership claim they have not breached the Constitutional Lockbox. You decide. Elections are in November.

What is evident to me is that the state does not have a deficiency of resources, but a clear issue of being able to prioritize and allocate them for the intended purpose.

The budget in 2017, which set the allocation for our transportation needs as noted above, had strong Bipartisan support.

Part of the bipartisan agreement hinged on regaining the trust of the general public after the state had failed to be a good-faith steward of transportation funding.

One budget cycle later with a super Democrat majority now controlling the allocation of transportation dollars, the spirit of that bipartisan legislation has devolved into a fiction - which is a prime example of why the public has no faith that the state will responsibly handle its financial responsibilities.

This is just another reason I am against the hasty installation of any state-wide tolling plan.

It's important to use dedicated transportation tax dollars for their intended use, namely bridge and road repair projects, and nothing else.

The legislative session convenes on Wednesday (Feb. 5).

I’m hopeful that the legislature can, once again, come together to form a sensible solution that will actually fund the STF to its statutory required levels without further financially burdening Connecticut residents.

State Rep. Richard A. Smith (R-108) represents the communities of New Fairfield, Sherman, New Milford and Danbury.