Tolls, pot stir concerns during Fairfield U. panel
FAIRFIELD — The Fairfield Masters of Public Administration Summit touched on various challenges and proposed solutions for Connecticut in the first months of Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration.
“I’m trying to see about tolls and see how realistic that is going to be,” Michael Crafter, a part-time MPA student who lives in Norwalk, said at the April 2 event. “It may cause a burden on people here, it’s also a budget situation.”
A potential tolling plan, unveiled in mid-February, would include 53 toll gantries on Interstates 84, 91, 95 and the Merritt and Wilbur Cross parkways.
Lamont’s Communications Director Maribel La Luz said that the administration’s approach was about a desire to listen at all levels.
“There’s appetite for a new style and a new willingness to listen and I think so far it’s working,” La Luz said.
Recently, Lamont hinted at a compromise with the Republican minority in both houses of the General Assembly, suggesting that short-term borrowing could be a solution for transportation and infrastructure projects before any toll revenues reach state coffers, expected to be by 2023 if passed.
Liz Kurantowicz, a GOP strategist and political analyst, was more skeptical about toll revenues, noting that despite a statewide approval of a special transportation fund lockbox, funds would be diverted given the chance.
“The toll money will never be enough, it’ll go somewhere it’s not supposed to go,” Kurantowicz said. “We’ll have this discussion in 30 years.”
However, all of the topics addressed — marijuana, paid family leave, tolls and even sports betting — are inherently tied to the state budget.
“We have to see how (legislators are) going to piece all of these proposals together in a form they can pass,” Emilie Munson, a Hearst Connecticut Media reporter, said. “(These issues) seem to be independent but there’s a lot of negotiation.”
On the topic of marijuana legalization, which Lamont remains optimistic would pass this year in Hartford along with paid family leave and a $15 minimum wage, there are still pending questions.
La Luz said that the governor supported the expungement of criminal records for previous offenders if marijuana legalization came to pass. Potential revenues from marijuana sales were not presented in Lamont’s budget due to “conservative” planning La Luz said.