Connecticut, Delaware lawmakers endorse transportation 'lockboxes'

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Friday, July 28, 2017

Two East Coast states have taken steps described as helping to ensure that transportation money is used for its intended purpose.

There are at least 29 states with constitutional provisions on dedicated or restricted state funds for transportation, according to the Council of State Governments.

The Connecticut General Assembly has endorsed adding a proposed constitutional amendment to the November 2018 statewide ballot to protect the state’s transportation revenue from raids via a “lockbox.”

House lawmakers voted 101-50 to approve the measure. The Senate followed suit on a 29-7 vote. The proposed amendment, HJ100, did not require the governor’s signature to be placed on the ballot.

Gov. Dannel Malloy, however, has advocated for safeguards to budget revenues earmarked for the state’s Special Transportation Fund. He has said he will not approve new transportation revenues for the state fund without a constitutional protection for the fund.

In recent legislative sessions lawmakers have advocated for higher fuel tax rates and border tolls to help the state address road and bridge funding needs. The efforts have failed to gain support largely due to the governor’s demands for first adding protections for new revenue.

Raids of the state’s transportation fund are not uncommon. Through the years legislatures and governors in the Nutmeg State have tapped money raised via vehicle taxes and fees for other purposes.

Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, said the creation of a lockbox would allow the state to move forward with plans to raise road revenues.

“By passing this amendment to our state constitution and creating a lockbox, we can get serious about transportation and make the critical investments we desperately need to improve Connecticut’s aging infrastructure,” Scanlon said in prepared remarks.

Opponents labeled the lockbox as a “gimmick” to sell the idea of installing tolls in the state.

Rep. Laura Devlin, R-Fairfield, added that the proposed amendment would not protect state transportation dollars.

“The lockbox is not secure and can be picked with a bobby pin or in this case statutory language to change what a ‘revenue source’ is defined as in the Special Transportation Fund,” Devlin stated.

Delaware lawmakers have also acted to protect their state’s transportation money.

SB20 adds a state constitutional amendment that would require a three-fourths supermajority at the statehouse to overcome it.

The Transportation Trust Fund is supported with revenues from fuel taxes, vehicle fees and tolls, as well as federal funding.

Despite the fund’s intended purpose to support transportation, Sen. Greg Lavelle, R-Sharpley, said through the years the fund has also been used to cover state Department of Transportation and Division of Motor Vehicles operating expenses, and debt service.

Lavelle added that nearly one-third of the nearly $900 million raised annually for transportation goes to operating funds and debt service.

Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, called the lockbox smart public policy.

Other legislative activities of interest for Connecticut and Delaware are available.

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