Connecticut 2015 Legislative Session Review

The 2015 Connecticut legislative session was a busy year for the General Assembly and consequently at Motor Transport Association of Connecticut.

After being sworn in for his second term, Governor Malloy kicked open the doors of the State Capitol and began a very busy and historic session. After promising no tax increases, his budget eliminated exemptions and shifted money around between accounts and severely cut some agencies allocations. The Democrats “repaired” all the damage that the governor had done by restoring funding and increasing taxes on the same scale as Malloy’s $1.5 billion first budget. The governor signed it into law.

One of Malloy’s signature proposals was a commitment to repair, upgrade and expand Connecticut’s neglected transportation infrastructure. He offered a thirty-year, $100 billion program to make Connecticut a “first in class” transportation showplace. Included in his plan is the replacement of the Aetna Viaduct in Hartford, the Mixmaster in Waterbury, widening I-95 in Fairfield County, expanding all rail lines and services, creating more bus-ways, encouraging “transit oriented development” and putting $100 million into improved bike and pedestrian options.

It’s a bold plan. It’s an expensive plan. And it will take years to implement. However, the one thing missing from his plan is the financing to pay for it. He has appointed a Connecticut Transportation Financing Panel to come back in the Fall, perhaps in a special session, and to submit proposals to raise the money. The panel has met several times. It will consider everything from tolls to public/private partnership and bonding.

The governor did propose a “kick start” by convincing the legislature to take one percent of the 6.35% sales tax. He wants to use half of the money raised (in the hundreds of millions) to start some of his transportation projects and the other half percent to fund property tax relief for motor vehicles.

It was not a good session for businesses. Proposals for a unitary tax, tripling the tax on data processing equipment and delaying repeal of surcharges on corporate taxes brought some companies to the boiling point. Some, including General Electric, threatened to leave the state. Last minute compromises mollified some of the business interests but Connecticut continues to show up as a state in dire financial condition and unfriendly to business.

MTAC’s Top Priority Bill Passed

Our top legislative priority for the past two years, HB 6707 prohibits the “charge back” of increased unemployment compensation assessments against an individual motor carrier, who has to let a CDL driver go, because the driver was convicted of DUI in his car, off duty. It passed both houses overwhelmingly and the governor signed it into law on July 2. It becomes effective Oct. 1.

“Implementers”—Two Christmas Trees

As usual, the legislature did not finish all of its work by the constitutionally mandated adjournment date of June 3. The governor and the Democratic leadership then met and negotiated out a package of proposals that got all wrapped into two packages euphemistically referred to as “Budget Implementers.” These two bills include many proposals that had broad support but could not be acted upon by the end of the session. However, they also have included controversial bills from the previous session as well as new ideas that never showed up anywhere during the regular session. These well-ornamented “Christmas Trees” are passed by a majority vote after all floor amendments are defeated.

These bills are always hundreds of pages long and include many sections. This year, the implementers had some good and some bad news for MTAC members. The first is SB 1502, Public Act 15-5.

Section 165 – Quick Clearance Of Limited Access Highways In The State

MTAC opposed this bill, which was submitted by the Towers Association. It exempts, from liability for property damage, a wrecker operator who, at the direction of police or a traffic authority, removes a vehicle blocking a limited access highway travel lane. We don’t believe that anyone should be held harmless for damages that they cause to vehicles or cargo while providing a professional service.

This bill died in the regular session but it was slid into the back of a gigantic “budget implementer bill” in a one day special session. The Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), insurance interests and trial lawyers opposed the bill.

Sections 203, 204 & 206 – Conforming State CDL Law To Federal Law

Under federal law, state CDL laws must be consistent with federal regulations. The bill conforms state law to federal regulations regarding self-certification of commerce type and medical certification.

The bill requires first-time CDL and commercial instruction permit applicants and CDL applicants and CDL holders applying for renewal to self-certify the type of commerce in which they expect to or currently engage (i.e. non-excepted interstate, excepted interstate, non-excepted intrastate, or excepted intrastate). The DMV commissioner cannot issue or renew a CDL to anyone that does not make the certification and must downgrade a CDL to Class D operator’s license within 60 days of a CDL Holder’s failure to self-certify.

In conformity with federal law, the bill also requires that medical examiner’s certificates be completed by a federally certified medical examiner that is listed on the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners.

Section 210 – Heavy Duty Trailer Registration Fee

The bill eliminates a separate method for determining the weight for the registration fee of a tractor limiting to pulling a heavy-duty trailer. Under the bill, registration fees for tractors that pull heavy-duty trailers will be determined in the same manner as the fees for all other tractor. This bill eliminated the requirement that heavy-duty plates be displayed along with a regular commercial plate.

Section 218 – Eliminating the Waiting Period for Duplicate Title

This section eliminates the requirement that the DMV commissioner wait 15 days before issuing a duplicate certificate of title.

The second implementer bill was HB 7061, Public Act 15-244.

Section 74 Sales Tax Diversion

The bill requires the Tax Commissioner to direct a portion of the 6.35% sales tax rate to the Special Transportation and the Municipal Revenue Sharing Account (MRSA). The percentage of the tax dedicated to each account increases from 4.7% in 2016 to 7.9% in 2017.

Section 91 & 92 Petroleum Products Gross Earnings Tax Revenue Transferred to Special Transportation Fund (STF)

91 – Current law requires a specified amount of petroleum products gross earnings tax revenue to be deposited in the STF each fiscal year. Beginning July 1, 2015, the bill instead directs all such revenue to the STF.

92 – Beginning in FY16, the bill eliminates statutorily scheduled transfers from the General Fund to the STF. Current law requires $152.8 million be transferred for FY16 and $162.8 million to be transferred in each fiscal year thereafter.

Sections 206 & 208 Motor Vehicle Property Tax Mill Rates

Beginning with the Oct. 1, 2015 grand list, the bill allows municipalities and special taxing districts to tax motor vehicles at a different rate than other taxable property, but caps the motor vehicle rate at 32 mils for the 2015 assessment year and 29.36 mills for the 2016 assessment year and thereafter. The bill applies to any town, city, borough, consolidated town and city, consolidated town and borough, and village, fire, sewer or combination fire and sewer districts, and other municipal organizations authorized to levy and collect taxes and supersedes any special act, municipal charter, or home rule ordinance.

The bill further limits the motor vehicle mill rate special taxing districts and boroughs may impose by barring them from setting a rate that, if combined with the municipality’s motor vehicle mill rate, would exceed the 32 or 29.36 mill rates.

It also makes a conforming change to a provision allowing municipalities with more than one taxing district to set a uniform citywide mill rate for taxing motor vehicles.

Section 207 and 209 Municipal Revenue Sharing Account (MRSA) Distributions

Beginning in FY17, the bill requires OPM to distribute motor vehicle property tax grants to municipalities to mitigate the revenue loss attributed to the motor vehicle mill rate cap described above. Under the bill, the FY17 grant is equal to the difference between the amount of property taxes a municipality levied on motor vehicles for the 2013 assessment year and the amount of the levy for that year at 32 mills. In FY18 and thereafter, the grant is equal to such difference based on 29.6 mills.

This effectively eliminates the property tax for all vehicles above the mill rates established in this law. Trucks registered in Hartford will have their mill rate decrease from 74 mills to 32 mills and then to 29.6 mills. The mill rate for trucks registered in any larger community in the state is likely to decrease. Connecticut mill rates are available on the state’s Office & Policy Management website.

Other Bills of Interest

MTAC supported several resolutions to establish Constitutional protection for the Special Transportation Fund to prohibit future raids. The bill passed three committees, but was not taken up in either house. It is anticipated that some sort of “Lock-Box” proposal will be advanced in the special session this fall.

Perhaps this session will be remembered more for what did not happen than that which did.

  • No Tolls
  • No Red Light Cameras
  • No Speed Cameras
  • No expansion on – No Thru-Truck Prohibitions.
  • No further toying with House Hold Goods Laws

Some of the things that did not happen would have been welcome.

  • Sales Tax Exemption on Truck Parts and Service
  • Action on corrosive road chemicals
  • Diversion of STF Funds to State Park Support
  • Capping of the Diesel Fuel Tax Rate

Stay tuned for much more legislative action as the General Assembly and the governor work on Malloy’s 30-year, $100 billion dollar transportation plan in September.