This week we’ve been exploring why gas prices are so high in Connecticut. One culprit is a little-known state tax on the wholesale price of gas. On July 1 that’ll go up in the largest gas tax increase in state history. But the money won’t go to helping Connecticut’s transportation infrastructure.
Last week I paid $3.79 cents for a gallon of gas. 46 cents of it went straight to the state of Connecticut. And I was frustrated. So was my fellow gas-guzzler Tracy Fusco.
She’s also frustrated because, “Our roads are terrible. And gas taxes are supposed to pay for repairs to the roads.”
And it turns out that according to opinion polls, people don’t necessarily mind paying transportation taxes as long as it improves their commute. As long as the money goes toward fixing roads and bridges and railways.
Tracy Fusco’s question is: "So, where’s that money going?”
That’s a very good question. Here’s how Mike Fox of the Gasoline Automotive Service Dealers of America would answer it.
“$1.2 billion has disappeared. It’s not that we didn’t have the money. It’s that the legislature – and I use this word – stole the money.”
Fox is talking about more than a billion dollars in fuel tax revenue over the past ten years that hasn’t been used for transportation. That money comes from a little-known wholesale tax on gasoline, which costs around 22 cents a gallon today and will jump to 25 cents a gallon in July.
Now, in the past, this money went to fix our roads and bridges.
“Everything really began to change dramatically in 2003," explains Keith Phaneuf, a reporter for the Connecticut Mirror.
We were in a recession, “and a decision was made for one year, to take every penny of the wholesale fuel tax and put in in the general fund. Nothing for oil spills, nothing for transportation – just use it to balance the state budget.”
And lawmakers promised they’d put all the money back the next year – but they never really did. And so a lot of those transportation projects – never happened.
Now, transportation advocates are saying: we really need this money.
There are billions of dollars worth of unfunded maintenance projects and capacity projects that are needed. They’re not just roads, they’re not just bridges, they’re not just buses. They affect everyone in the state," says Karen Burnaska, coordinator of Transit for Connecticut.
The Aetna Viaduct on I-84 in Hartford will cost $1-2 billion to redo. Those movable bridges on Metro-North?
“They’re old," Burnaska says. "And they’re movable. And what would happen if something would happen when they would move, and they would get stuck?”
That's happened before, and commuters have been stuck on the train for hours.
When Governor Dannel Malloy took office in 2010, he did put some money back into the transportation fund. But this year he and legislators are taking $91 million out. That’s more than the gas tax increase would raise. Burnaska isn’t happy with that.
At the same time she says, “I can’t look you in the eye and say, oh, you should take it from somebody else’s budget. I would like to think if there’s something else he could have done, he would have done it.”
Governor Malloy’s administration says the tax increase was passed in 2005 before he was governor. Meanwhile, legislators are discussing a resolution that would protect all the money in the special transportation fund. But it wouldn’t take effect until 2015 – after the next gubernatorial election.