2017 Connecticut Legislature recap

The Connecticut General Assembly has concluded its 2017 regular session. While there will be a special session to complete the state budget, MTAC can provide some updates on legislative developments to members.

SB 260 – An Act Concerning Autonomous Vehicles

This bill as introduced initially held that a task force would be established to study autonomous vehicles, and analyze how such vehicles will impact the automobile industry and the state. MTAC submitted testimony in support of SB 260, and provided some points for the legislature to consider. MTAC stated, in part, “Given the nature of interstate commercial trucking, it is likely that a strong federal framework for regulation of autonomous commercial trucks is desirable. Any potential regulation of autonomous commercial trucks by the State of Connecticut should either be closely harmonized with surrounding states policies that are based on federal guidance, or perhaps it should simply adopt federal standards by reference.”

SB 260 was ultimately amended to establish a pilot program in which autonomous vehicle testing will be conducted in four Connecticut towns. It also created the proposed task force, and calls for the submission of certain reports regarding autonomous vehicles.

While the focus of SB 260 is on passenger cars rather than commercial trucks, MTAC believes this is a good step towards embracing technology that will improve safety.

SB 260 has been signed into law by Governor Malloy.

HB 7055 – An Act Concerning Recommendations by the Department of Transportation Regarding … Heavy Duty Trailers

This bill, known as “the DOT bill,” contains policy changes recommended by Connecticut Department of Transportation. MTAC has been working with Connecticut Department of Transportation (DOT) on the provision regarding trailers, and accordingly, testified in support of it.

The change regarding trailers would go from a system where over-dimensioned permit holders would use “account codes” and receive a confirmation number for the transaction, to one where “annual permits” would be used and confirmation numbers would be provided for the transaction. In the short term, there will be little to no change noticeable to permit users. However, this change should help make the system more efficient, which is important to potentially having automated issuance of over-dimensioned permits at some point in the future.

MTAC testimony stated, in part, “This change will ultimately result in benefits to the construction contractors and subcontractors who use the permits, as well as customers who benefit from their work, in both the public sector and private sector.”

This bill was passed by both the Connecticut House and Senate, and is awaiting Governor Malloy’s signature.

SB 76 – An Act Concerning the Power of the Commissioner of Transportation to Conduct a Mileage Tax Study with State Funds

The goal of this bill was to ‘prohibit the Commissioner of Transportation from expending state funds for a federal study of mileage tax on motor vehicles operated on state highways.’ It was introduced following news first announced in summer 2016 that Connecticut DOT intended to spend $300,000 to participate in a study with several other states regarding a mileage tax. SB 76 would prevent those funds from being expended.

MTAC testified in support of the bill, and the testimony stated, in part “More than 20 states have repealed weight-distance (VMT) taxes that were imposed on heavy trucks because they were very expensive for the states to administer, they discriminate against interstate carriers, and they have been widely evaded. There is plenty of evidence to show that a VMT [Vehicle Miles Traveled tax] is not an equitable or efficient funding mechanism.”

SB 76 was passed out of the Transportation Committee with bipartisan votes. Following that, Connecticut DOT announced that it had withdrawn from the study, and the funds would not be expended.

Still, the legislature moved to act firmly on this issue. All 36 Senators co-sponsored an amendment to strengthen SB 76, by mandating that Connecticut DOT would have to get approval from the Connecticut General Assembly before the Department could ever expend funds to study a mileage tax in the future.

This passed the Senate, as well as the House of Representatives. It awaits Governor Malloy’s signature.

SB 501 – An Act Concerning the Construction of Tunnels for Interstate Routes 84 and 91 in the Hartford Region

Much has been made of this legislation by local media affiliates. Perhaps recent news stories have exaggerated its impact. The complete text of the bill states, “If federal funds become available to the state, the Department of Transportation may consider using such funds to construct tunnels for Interstate Routes 84 and 91 in the Hartford region.” Passage of this bill can be seen as a symbolic move, because there was nothing preventing that from happening in the first place.

MTAC staff and members have met with Congressman John Larson regarding this plan, and the time granted by the Congressman and his staff is much appreciated. MTAC also testified on the bill, and part of that testimony included the following: “If this plan were to go forward, MTAC would want to ensure that hazmat transportation is not disadvantaged. MTAC has many member companies who deliver gasoline to gas stations all over New England, and home heating fuel to homes all over New England. Accordingly, the trucks operated by these businesses are often ‘through traffic’ on Interstates 84 and 91. MTAC requests that accommodations would have to be made for these carriers who depend on the highways in order to reach their customers.”

Connecticut DOT would have to study this proposal to determine if it is feasible, and what the cost would be before it would move forward. A popular figure for estimated cost is $10 billion, but in reality it could be a lot higher than that. Additionally, the chances of receiving a federal grant for $10 billion or more are incredibly low. However, it is good that Connecticut DOT is considering all options regarding highway maintenance/reconstruction of the I-84/91 interchange.

HB 7098 – An Act Concerning the In-State Transporter’s Permit

This bill adds additional requirements upon motor carriers that deliver alcoholic liquor to places in Connecticut. It would have required that the transporters submit a monthly report to the Department of Revenue Services indicating the name and address of each consignor and consignee of the alcoholic liquor and the date of shipment or delivery.

MTAC opposed this and submitted testimony, which stated in part, “This bill will not benefit consumers in any way” and “This bill will impose unnecessary, onerous administrative burdens on motor carriers, and will very possibly limit consumer choice in Connecticut.”

While the bill did get approved by a couple of legislative committees, it did not advance any farther than that. MTAC will likely continue to be engaged with this issue in the future.

HB 6058 – An Act Concerning Electronic Tolls

This bill essentially would have given Connecticut DOT authority to charge congestion-price tolls on any interstate highway or state route in the state, at any location, and at any rate(s). It would not have guaranteed the construction of new capacity. MTAC opposed this for a variety of reasons, including the point that charging tolls on existing highways that have been built and maintained with fuel taxes and registration fees is double taxation.

MTAC and its allies in the American Trucking Association(s) (ATA) federation conducted research on this issue, and found that no state has ever converted an existing interstate highway corridor from a toll-free facility, to a tolled facility. This plan would have implemented that approach on multiple highways in the state.

MTAC believes in efficient investment in highways, roads, and bridges, but charging tolls on already existing capacity cannot be construed as efficient investment.

MTAC has worked to address claims that Connecticut should have tolls because other states in the Northeast have tolls. Generally, those highways were built with tolls and grandfathered in to the Eisenhower Interstate System when it was created. Connecticut would not be following that same approach with this proposal.

The bill was not approved during the regular legislative session, but MTAC remains opposed to any future efforts to toll existing capacity.

For questions, call Joe Sculley in the MTAC office at (860) 520-4455.