Boucher, state reps claim victory in fight against mileage tax

State withdraws from mileage tax study

Senator Toni Boucher.

After two years of considering a mileage-based tax, the Connecticut Department of Transportation decided to withdraw from a regional mileage tax study on April 6, citing a lack of funds as the main reason. The study would have cost the state $300,000 after factoring in federal grants.

A mileage-based tax would mean that residents would have to pay a tax based on the number of miles they drove. Possible mechanisms for tracking the number of miles included a chip in the car or an app on the GPS, which has raised concerns about the possible invasion of personal privacy.

State Sen. Toni Boucher, who represents Ridgefield, Bethel, New Canaan, Redding, Weston, Westport, and Wilton, hailed the news of the state’s withdrawal last week.

“I couldn’t think of one person who ever contacted me who said that they were in support of any idea like this,” she told The Press. “When I discussed it, and wrote about it to my constituents in my district, they were vehemently against it.”

The Transportation Committee voted 19-16 in favor of a bill that called for the state’s withdrawal from the study.

Sen. Boucher, along with Ridgefield’s state representatives John Frey and Michael Ferguson, voted for the bill.

“The mileage tax study was a bad idea from the start,” said Rep. Frey. “No one liked it other than the governor and certain special interest groups, but the majority party didn’t have the courage to scrap it from last year’s budget.  When my colleagues and I sounded the alarm about the study and the implications of a mileage tax, the overwhelmingly negative response it received from Connecticut residents made it politically unpalatable.  Now, thanks to that strong opposition, it’s not going to happen in the near future. It just shows you the power taxpayers have when they rally around an issue.”

John Frey.

Though the bill passed through the committee, it still has to go through the House and Senate to vote. Before it could do so, the DoT announced its withdrawal from the study.

“We had hoped that the movement through the legislation may convince them to withdraw this before this bill gets passed,” Sen. Boucher said.

Sen. Boucher had opposed the survey, even after the government had announced that it was not planning to implement a mileage tax, but rather to collect data from the study.

“Our position was, and still is” why spend $300,000 of money we do not have in times of financial duress and crises on a study you did not plan to implement?” she said.

Ferguson agreed.

“Connecticut is in a fiscal disaster, and to allocate money to a study when we have no desire to implement it makes no sense,” he said. “We have such limited funds I think we could look at different infrastructure projects and traffic problems. It’s about not spending more money.”

State Rep. Michael Ferguson (R-138).

Mistrust

Ferguson also pointed to the mistrust residents have with the state’s government.

“This raises the question of, ‘would this study lead to the implementation of the tax?’ And if there’s such a push to conduct this study, when you’re saying that it won’t be implemented, why is there such a push for the study? It makes you wonder if maybe the plan is actually to eventually implement a tax,” he told The Press. “Stopping the study from actually happening is a way to stop that thought.”

In contrast, Sen. Carlo Leone, who represents Stamford and Darien, had voted against the bill to withdraw the survey.

“Every time anyone hears the word tax, it’s a hard topic to support and embrace,” he said. “But we’re at the point now that we’re the only state that isn’t investing as much as it should on all the tools that are available out there, including potentially tools. We’re paying for it now — people just don’t realize it.”

Federal money

Sen. Leone stressed the importance of receiving federal funds.

“The federal dollars to assist investing in the transportation infrastructure is usually critical because there’s not enough money and revenue and expertise to go around at the state level to fit all of our needs,” he said. “So the hope was that by participating, we would have received data with recommendations that we could have chosen to follow or not follow depending on the will and the data presented.

“For me, it was more about getting as much information as possible on the local and regional level,” Leone said. “Now we’re forced to do everything on our dime and our time, which makes it even more difficult.”

Sen. Leone said that the state would move more slowly to gather these data and funds without federal aid.

“We won’t be able to move as fast as we’d like to — we’re not going to be able to do everything we need to do, so we’ll have to very critical in prioritizing what we can do at any given time.”

‘Big shock’

On April 6, DoT Commissioner James Redeker wrote a letter to the I-95 Corridor Coalition — an alliance transportation-related organizations along the Atlantic coastline from Florida to Maine.

“I continue to believe this collaborative effort is a great opportunity to learn and gather critical information about a potential future revenue source,” he said.

The Department of Transportation was seeking alternatives for the gas tax, given the rise of more fuel-efficient cars on the road.

“The Department of Transportation did pursue this mainly on their own without letting the legislature know about it,” Sen. Boucher said. “Since we were not in session, it was a big shock to us. As one of the co-chairs of the transportation committee, I was very much interested in what this was all about. When looking into the mileage tax study, it did not appeal to us at all.”

Sen. Boucher credited the state’s successful withdrawal to the public.

“We’ve also learned to make sure the public knows about these issues, because they can influence the outcome,” she said.

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