By Susan Haigh, Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker wants Connecticut to help his administration collect millions of dollars in unpaid highway tolls, calling for a reciprocity agreement with neighboring state officials.
But the Republican may have to wait to see whether 2019 is the year Connecticut lawmakers finally vote to implement some form of tolling.
"Let's get some electronic tolling up and then we'll be able to be really reciprocal, won't we," said Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, who proposed tolls on semitrailers during the 2018 campaign. Asked Friday whether tolls just for trucks would enable Connecticut to help Massachusetts recoup the roughly $5 million in overdue tolls owed by Nutmeg State drivers, Lamont said it's "to be determined" and did not elaborate.
At least one bill, proposed by freshman state Sen. Alex Bergstein, D-Greenwich, has been offered this session that would require Connecticut's transportation commissioner to establish electronic tolls for all drivers on major highways in amounts comparable to what's charged in surrounding states. Opponents of highway tolls have said they fear Lamont will ultimately agree to universal tolls.
Lamont is scheduled to present his two-year state budget proposal, which could include tolls, on Feb. 20.
The Boston Herald reported last week that out-of-state drivers have racked up $26.8 million in unpaid tolls since Massachusetts implemented electronic tolling more than two years ago. Connecticut drivers, the report said, are the biggest offenders, comprising more than 20 percent of the scofflaws. While Massachusetts has agreements with Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island that prevent those states' drivers from renewing their licenses and registrations if they haven't paid their tolls in 90 days, there's no such agreement with Connecticut. Because Connecticut has no tolls, there's no reciprocal action for Massachusetts to take.
"The amount of uncollected toll revenue is always a work in progress because we do have reciprocity agreements in place that affect about 80 percent of the dollars associated with what's outstanding at any point in time." Baker told reporters last week. "We need to see if we can something like that in place for Connecticut."
MassDOT said more than 2.5 million out-of-state drivers use the Massachusetts Turnpike without an E-Z Pass transponder, paying more than $73 million in tolls.
The Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles and the MassDOT reached an agreement in 2014 that spelled out how Connecticut would provide Massachusetts with current vehicle registration information, including names and addresses, that it has on file for drivers who don't have an E-Z Pass account and whose license plates are photographed as their vehicle passes under an overhead gantry. That information transfer enables Massachusetts to mail bills to drivers who don't have an E-Z Pass.
The agreement states that Massachusetts DOT will pay Connecticut $1 for each inquiry. It also places various restrictions on how Massachusetts can use the information.
Lamont said he hasn't spoken to Baker about the unpaid tolls issue, but said he hopes to meet with him at an upcoming meeting of the National Governors Association.
Associated Press Writer Bob Salsberg in Boston contributed to this report.