The regional effort to reduce vehicle emissions along the East Coast that advanced in December with just four of 13 interested jurisdictions agreeing to take part appears to have dwindled, at least for the time being, to include just Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C. as active participants.
Connecticut Democrats and Gov. Ned Lamont, working under the pressure of a mid-week deadline to pass legislation this year and to finalize a new biennial state budget, scrapped the Nutmeg State's implementation of the Transportation and Climate Initiative Program (TCI) as part of a compromise reported Friday by the CT Mirror.
Though Connecticut will not implement TCI in its next budget, the CT Mirror reported Monday that Democrats in Hartford "said the Transportation Climate Initiative might get a vote this year, or might be revisited in 2022."
In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker has the authority to enter into a multi-state carbon reduction pact like TCI on his own, but governors in most other states need to secure legislative approval. Baker's administration said Monday it remains committed to the program.
The three southern New England states and the nation's capital city agreed in December to work towards implementing a regional "cap-and-invest" program to limit carbon pollution from cars and trucks and generate resources to expand clean transit options and improve public health. The coalition settled on a carbon emission reduction target of 26 percent by 2032, which could add an estimated 5 to 9 cents to the price of a gallon of gas, according to officials involved in the effort.
TCI is a central part of Baker's transportation and climate agenda and is "critical" to the efforts that will be needed to achieve his administration's goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides said in December when the three states and D.C. agreed to move forward with TCI.
On Monday, a Theoharides spokesman said the administration "understands the challenges" involved in developing a program like TCI, "but continues to believe the program's capacity to combat climate change and build better, cleaner transportation infrastructure is unmatched."
"The Commonwealth has always planned to move forward with implementation only with multiple states participating. The program will continue to advance with the planned reporting year to gather more information about the program's immense benefits for Massachusetts' transportation system," spokesman Craig Gilvarg said.
Before TCI can truly take effect, at least three jurisdictions must have authorized implementation of their respective programs. The memorandum of understanding signed in December calls for the TCI Program to begin as soon as Jan. 1, 2022 with a reporting year and for the first three-year compliance period to begin Jan. 1, 2023 "or at such later time as at least three jurisdictions have completed the legal processes required to implement their individual programs."
Though Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Virginia all signed a statement of support for the concept of TCI and pledged to continue to partner with states that sign onto the compact, none have added themselves to the MOU since it was first announced in December.
The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, which has long been a vocal opponent of TCI, said Connecticut putting the implementation of TCI off for the year "is great news for taxpayers everywhere."
"It shows that one less state if falling for this regressive gas tax scheme that does not do anything to help the environment and only subsidizes electric vehicles for the affluent," spokesman Paul Craney said in a statement Friday. "With Connecticut departure from the TCI gas tax scheme this year, it should send a wakeup call to Gov. Baker that across the board, taxpayers don't need another expense in their life."
On Monday, Mass. Fiscal called on Baker "to withdraw his support for the quickly deteriorating and harmful" TCI and to "send a message to Massachusetts taxpayers and small businesses that the Baker administration is serious about an economic recovery and wants to avoid wasting any more Massachusetts taxpayer's money on TCI."
TCI started as a collaboration between 12 states and Washington, D.C., but the possibility of higher consumer prices pushed New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu to withdraw from talks in 2019 and call the idea a "financial boondoggle." Of the 12 states that began TCI conversations, only in three — Massachusetts, Maryland and New York — does the governor already have the authority to sign their states up unilaterally.
Massachusetts is the only state where legislative approval is not required to have signed the MOU in December to pledge to work towards implementation.
In Hartford, Lamont, House Speaker Matt Ritter and Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney said Friday that they had made a series of compromises to get closer to a budget that could satisfy the fiscally moderate Democratic governor and his party's legislative caucus. CT Mirror reported that a vote on the latest blueprint could happen as soon as Monday.
As part of the plan, the state's next budget will not include tax increases — Lamont was happy to see two proposed income surtaxes and a digital media ads tax dropped, and lawmakers appeared glad to drop discussion of TCI, which has been bitterly opposed by Republicans in the Connecticut General Assembly.
"If we're not talking revenues, then we're not talking revenues," Looney, the Democratic leader of the Senate said, according to CT Mirror.
When this session began, Democrats held 97 seats in the Connecticut House compared to 54 Republicans, and the Senate was divided 24-12 in favor of the Democrats.
Lamont's bill that would direct state agencies to implement the cap-and-trade program was redrafted by the Environment Committee and that panel voted 21-11 in March to report the substitute bill favorably.
Lamont's office said TCI is "projected to increase gasoline prices approximately 5 cents per gallon in 2023, increasing to 10 cents per gallon in 2032." In his February budget address, the Democratic governor said TCI would raise "over $80 million for climate change and public transit investment throughout our state" and framed it as a way to "maintain our project schedule to keep or bring our roads and bridges up to a state of good repair and speed up your commute."
Legislation to implement TCI in Rhode Island was filed in early May. It was sent to the Senate Environment and Agriculture Committee, which held a hearing on the bill on May 14 and five days later recommended that it "be held for further study," according to the Rhode Island General Assembly's website.
Rhode Island also has a different governor now than it did in December when Gina Raimondo signed the Ocean State onto the TCI MOU. Rhode Island Gov. Daniel McKee's position on TCI has not been made explicitly clear, but the deputy director of environmental protection at his administration's Department of Environmental Management was quoted in April saying that TCI "is the plan" for meeting the transportation sector requirements of the climate bill McKee signed into law earlier that month.