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Connecticut governor admits to a ‘divide’ with lawmakers over tolls

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Several opponents of proposed electronic tolling in Connecticut wait outside a closed-door meeting at the state Capitol in Hartford, Connecticut, on Wednesday. Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont was meeting with legislative leaders, hoping to persuade them to authorize tolls in a special legislative session to help generate transportation revenue. Tolling opponents says they’re already taxes too much. (Associated Press: SUSAN HAIGH)

HARTFORD, Conn. — Gov. Ned Lamont acknowledged Wednesday there is a divide between his administration and Connecticut legislators over the need for electronic tolls to generate more state transportation revenue but vowed not to give up on the issue.

While the Democratic-controlled General Assembly adjourned on June 5 without approving a tolling bill, the Democratic governor and former businessman has held out hope that legislation authorizing tolls will finally be passed during a special legislative session. But it remains unclear whether that will happen.

“I would say there was quite a divide in terms of what we do, and I’m not sure that we’ve found a toll bridge to connect us,” Lamont said, following a two-hour closed-door meeting he organized with Democratic and Republican legislative leaders. “But I’m going to try my best. I’ve been doing deals for a long time.”

Lamont and some of his top advisers provided a presentation to the lawmakers about Connecticut’s transportation funding needs, warning that the state faces the possibility of being penalized by the federal government in about 10 years for not keeping enough of its roads and bridges in good repair. The state is on track to spend about $875 million annually on transportation infrastructure, but Lamont’s administration estimates the need is actually about $1.2 billion a year.

The net revenue from tolls has been estimated to be about $800 million annually.

The issue of tolls is a politically contentious one. About a dozen citizens who oppose tolls, many holding signs, showed up at the state Capitol on Wednesday and shouted “no tolls” as Lamont, the legislators and others walked into the meeting. While they credit their lobbying efforts with helping to scuttle a vote during the regular legislative session, the toll opponents plan to keep up the fight.

“It’s a trust issue with me. I’m not going to take it for granted that they’re not going to do anything this time,” said Kevin Kupstis, an informational technology industry worker from Southington, who held signs that read “No Tolls! Cut Spending!” and “Tolls = Tax On Working Poor.”

To help make tolls more affordable and possibly more politically palatable, the package of proposals presented to the lawmakers Wednesday includes a plan for “middle class tax relief” by lowering the state’s lowest personal income tax rate of 3% to 2%.

In Connecticut, the first $10,000 of taxable income for single filers and first $20,000 for joint filers is currently taxed at 3%. Lowering that bottom rate would give all filers a tax break ranging from $90 to $180, according to Lamont’s proposal. There’s also a 20% tolling discount for low-income Connecticut residents; a 30% discount for all Connecticut residents with an EZ-Pass; and a 20% discount for frequent drivers.

The two Republican leaders didn’t appear to know a lot about the income tax proposal, saying Lamont’s presentation ended before the idea was discussed at length. But it didn’t seem to make much of a difference, with both the GOP leaders of the House of Representatives and the Senate reiterating they continue to oppose tolls.

Still upset at not being part of the negotiations on the new two-year state budget, House Minority Leader Themis Klarides of Derby said she believes the Republicans were invited to Wednesday’s meeting because the Democrats don’t have enough support within their own ranks to pass a tolling bill.

“Do I believe they want us in that room to have this conversation? Yes,” Klarides said. “But I believe they want us because they don’t have the votes on their own.”

Despite saying there’s a divide with lawmakers, Lamont contends there is enough support among just the Democratic lawmakers to pass a tolling bill, and he’s working with the Democratic leaders to determine the right time for a vote. Asked if he’s confident there will be a decision on tolls in a special session, Lamont answered he’s “very confident.”

 

 

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The Nation

Can you say oversized load!

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That is big!

 

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The Nation

Diesel prices all but stagnant nationwide, less than 2-cent shift anywhere

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The average price for a gallon of diesel nationwide fell by 0.7 cents for the week ending July 22, to currently stand at $3.044 per gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The lack of movement in diesel prices continues a pattern that has been going on for the past month. On June 24, diesel was at 3.042, with changes of less than 1.5 cents every week in between.

Though tiny, the movement in diesel prices was nearly unanimous this past week, down in all but one region of the country.  That one exception was the Rocky Mountain region, where diesel rose 0.3 cents, to $2.978. Year-to-date, diesel prices are lower in every region, with the Rocky Mountain region again being the standout, having the greatest difference, 39.1 cents from this time last year.

California made it a clean sweep for lower diesel prices year-to-date with a drop of 1.3 cents this past week, to $3.939, still by far the highest in the country, but 0.4 cents below this time last year.

Along the rest of the West Coast, diesel dropped 1.1 cents to $3.198, bringing the overall West Coast average to $3.611 per gallon.

The average along the East Coast is currently $3.072, with prices highest in the Central Atlantic, where diesel is going for $3.259 after a 1.3-cent drop. Diesel is $3.122 in New England following a decrease of 0.9 cents over the past week, while in the Lower Atlantic region diesel slipped by 0.4 cents to stand at $2.937 per gallon.

That’s still slightly better than the Midwest, where diesel is going for $2.948 per gallon after a drop of 0.8 cents. Meanwhile, the Gulf Coast, the low-price leader in diesel, fell by the same 0.1 cent it gained the week before to stand at $2.804.

On Monday, increasing tensions between Iran and Western countries failed to produce a sharp reaction in the crude oil markets. Brent crude, the global benchmark, rose 98 cents, or 1.57%, to settle at $63.45 a barrel. U.S.-based West Texas Intermediate crude rose 59 cents, or 1.06%, to settle at $56.22 a barrel.

Click here for a complete list of average prices by region for the past three weeks.

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DOL opinion letter: Time in sleeper berth does not count as compensable time

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The Department of Labor says the time a truck driver spends in the sleeper berth is not compensable time. Pictured in the Peterbilt 579 UltraLoft sleeper berth. (Courtesy: PETERBILT MOTORS)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Labor said Monday said it had determined that time spent in the sleeper berth by professional truck drivers while otherwise relieved from duty does not count as compensable time.

The DOL issued the determination in a written opinion letter by the department’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) on how a particular law applies in specific circumstances presented by the individual person or entity that requested the letter.

The American Trucking Associations lauded the opinion.

“ATA welcomes Monday’s opinion letter from DOL Wage and Hour Division Administrator Cheryl Stanton that concluded time spent by a commercial driver in the sleeper berth does not count as compensable hours under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, unless the driver is actually performing work or on call,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. “This opinion, which is consistent with decades-old DOL regulations, the weight of judicial authority, and the long understanding of the trucking industry, clears up confusion created by two recent court decisions that called the compensability of sleeper berth time into question.

Significantly, this opinion letter provides new guidance, the DOL said.

Under prior guidance, the DOL said WHD interpreted the relevant regulations to mean that while sleeping time may be excluded from hours worked where “adequate facilities” were furnished, only up to eight hours of sleeping time may be excluded in a trip 24 hours or longer, and no sleeping time may be excluded for trips under 24 hours.

“WHD has now concluded that this interpretation is unnecessarily burdensome for employers and instead adopts a straightforward reading of the plain language of the applicable regulation, under which the time drivers are relieved of all duties and permitted to sleep in a sleeper berth is presumptively non-working time that is not compensable,” the opinion letter said. “There may be circumstances, however, where a driver who retires to a sleeping berth is unable to use the time effectively for his or her own purposes. For example, a driver who is required to remain on call or do paperwork in the sleeping berth may be unable to effectively sleep or engage in personal activities; in such cases, the time is compensable hours worked.”

The ATA commended Acting Secretary Patrick Pizzella and Stanton for adopting a straightforward, plain-language reading of the law, rather than the burdensome alternative interpretation embraced by those outlier decisions.

“ATA also commends the department for making guidance like this available through opinion letters, which provide an opportunity for stakeholders to better understand their compliance obligations prospectively, rather than settling such matters only after the fact, through costly and wasteful litigation,” Spear said.

 

 

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