Missed Opportunities in Connecticut Legislative Session

Despite the support of State Senator Beth Bye, Connecticut's vulnerable user bill was not taken up by the House of Representatives | Photo: ct.gov

The Connecticut General Assembly wrapped up its so-called “short session” at midnight last night, during which legislators passed a budget that addressed the state’s $200 million deficit. While lawmakers took action on the budget, several other key pieces of legislation were left unaddressed. Here’s Tri-State’s breakdown of the session:

Vulnerable User Bill

bill that would have enhanced penalties for drivers that injure or kill pedestrians, cyclists, and other vulnerable users failed to pass in the House of Representatives before last night’s deadline, despite unanimous support from the Senate and forceful backing from State Senator Beth Bye. Lawmakers also did not put the legislation on the House’s consent calendar, where widely supported bills are marked for approval because no debate is necessary. This is the third year in a row that the General Assembly has failed to support protections for vulnerable users of the state’s roadways.

Red Light Cameras

For the eighth year in a row, the General Assembly did not act on legislation that would allow municipalities of a certain size to utilize red light cameras to improve safety at intersections. The bill, championed by progressive transportation advocate Representative Roland Lemar, was widely amended to address opponents’ concerns, including setting the bill up to be a five year pilot program, but it still did not move forward.

Gas Tax Cap

Earlier in the session, in the face of rising gas prices, the General Assembly unanimously passed a bill that would cap the state’s Gross Receipts Tax, which is levied on wholesale gasoline sales. The bill would do little for drivers except decrease the amount of funding for the Special Transportation Fund by $27 million. In fact, a Tri-State analysis found that the gas tax cap would save the average driver less than $10 per year, even though drivers in Connecticut pay an additional $313 per year in extra maintenance because of poor roads.

Amended Budget

The gas tax cap’s hit to the Special Transportation Fund is exacerbated by the fact that the adopted budget takes a total of $70 million from the fund as well. As part of deficit mitigation measures, the General Assembly shifted this money to the general fund, swept about $10 million in funding from rail operations, and raised fares on Metro-North riders, which will generate approximately $4 million in revenues.

Thanks to the efforts of Representative Kim Fawcett, a few bright spots in the transportation budget did peek through. Even though bus operation subsidies would see a decrease of about $465,000, the scheduled January 1st 4% fare increase for bus and ADA riders was withdrawn, and a $1.9 million Transit Improvement Program was created. The program will support transit service by investing in “train station improvement, service, bicycle path expansion, [and] transit oriented development planning.”

Route 11 Tolls

An additional bright spot for sustainable transportation advocates was the demise of a bill that would have authorized tolling to extend Route 11 approximately nine miles from Salem to Interstate 95. Earlier in the session, the Senate passed the bill on a party line vote, but there has been no indication of whether the tolls would actually cover the cost of building the road. Furthermore, the results of a study on the need for a Route 11 extension have yet to be released.

The results of this year’s legislative session indicate that much more needs to be done to improve the safety of all users of Connecticut’s roads, ensure that the state’s transit service is affordable and convenient, and make certain that Connecticut continues to prioritize road and bridge repair over expansion. However, advocates of sustainable transportation policies may not have to wait a full year in order to make a difference—there is already talk of a special session to address bills that were not taken up. Stay tuned.

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