Transportation Committee Approves Electric Vehicle, DOT Staffing Bills
After the controversial Transportation Climate Initiative failed last year, legislative Democrats pivoted to a new vehicle for addressing the state’s carbon footprint and incentivizing electric vehicles and charging infrastructure.
The bill expands Connecticut’s hydrogen and electric automobile rebate program, allowing municipalities, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and tribal entities to receive rebates to purchase or lease a new or used battery electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, or fuel cell electric vehicles.
Businesses are limited to no more than 10 rebates a year and no more than a total of 20 rebates unless the company operates fleets exclusively in an environmental justice community.
Vehicles eligible for a CHEAPR rebate must have a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $50,000 or less.
The CHEAPR program is funded through a fee on new motor vehicle sales and registration renewals.
The bill also makes long-needed adjustments to how the state appropriates the federal Clean Air Act fee.
The act, passed in 1990, required states to collect a $10 fee on registration forms to implement the its provisions.
Fee revenue initially went to a CAA account within the General Fund and was used to cover costs associated with implementing the provisions.
However, in 2009, the fee was redistributed to the General Fund and Special Transportation fund for other uses.
For example, the CAA fee could be used in the STF for paying debt service on bonds or employee payroll.
SB 4 redistributes the fee to two new accounts: (1) a transportation-related greenhouse gasses account administered by the Department of Transportation; and (2) a federal CAA account administered by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
CBIA supports this redistribution of the CAA fee as the $18-$23 million annual revenue will now be expended to improve air quality, reduce carbon emissions, and support environmentally-friendly transportation projects, all of which were intended targets under the act.
Section 14 of the bill allows DEEP to create a voucher program to support the deployment of EV Class 5 to Class 13 vehicles.
The section also allows DEEP to distribute vouchers for the installation of electric vehicle charging infrastructure for trucking companies that begin to electrify their fleets.
The voucher program will be funded by a $15 million appropriation to a new “medium and heavy duty vehicle voucher account” managed by DEEP.
Local and Regional Transit Districts
HB 5256 was originally crafted as a government-sponsored study of regional transit districts to make recommendations for consolidation, improving regional transportation options, and increasing efficiencies.
However, the bill, which the committee approved 22-13, was amended to remove the study and add new requirements for state subsidies to incentivize regionalization.
Specifically, the bill requires that transit districts that don’t have a population of 100,000 or more shall be subsidized no more than 90% of the district’s operating expenses and the subsidy will be reduced 5% annually until 2033 or until the population of the district is greater than 100,000.
After 2034, if a municipality that formed a transit district or that combined member municipalities included in a transit district do not meet population requirements, that district will be subsidized with not more than 40% of operating expenses.
According to the administration’s CREATES Report, 35% of transportation engineers, 25% of maintainers, and 30% of maintainer managers will be retirement eligible this summer.
The report notes that Connecticut continually finds it challenging to hire and retain certain engineering positions, including engineer 3s, principal engineers, and supervising engineers.
SB 215, which CBIA supported and the committee unanimously approved, makes a number of policy changes around the agency’s recruitment and training processes for engineers.
First, the bill requires DAS and DOT to promote engineering recruitment at public and independent institutions of higher education.
Second, beginning July 1, 2023 and then annually, the Department of Administrative Services must increase the rate of compensation for the state’s engineer intern job classification by the national consumer price index for urban wager earners and clerical workers for the previous 12-month period.
Prior to this change, the rate of compensation for these interns remained unchanged for years.
Lastly, the bill requires DAS to place entry-level engineering and maintainer positions and level two maintainer positions at DOT on continuous recruitment and requires they agency to make hiring decisions within 60 days of candidate submissions.
Prison to CDL Pipeline
SB 334, which the committee approved unanimously, followed passage last year of a measure that established a vocational village program within the Department of Correction.
That program provides 15 students annually with 240 hours of training toward a commercial driver’s license.
The bill, which has the support of committee co-chair Sen. Will Haskell (D-Westport), requires DOC to contract with a nonprofit organization to expand and enhance the vocational village program.
Under the proposed initiative, students then transition to either a CDL driving school or trucking company to complete behind-the-wheel requirements.
Ameelio CEO Uzoma Orchingwa told lawmakers their proprietary, all-in-one upskilling platform for underserved populations could be utilized in Connecticut prisons for providing commercial learner’s permits.
After the CLP is obtained, the nonprofit then enrolls students with partner driving schools to earn CDLs or facilitate hiring through apprenticeship programs.
The bill is needed because according to the American Trucking Association, U.S. companies saw a record deficit of 80,000 drivers last year.
Given that trucks move 72% of freight, the lack of drivers is a major factor behind supply chain disruptions.
SB 214, which mirrored legislation from last year, allows electric vehicle manufacturers to bypass the dealership model and obtain new or used-call dealer licenses in Connecticut.
The committee approved SB 214 21-14 despite opposition from car dealerships and the Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association.
The dealerships are concerned that allowing companies like Tesla and Rivian to bypass the dealership model hurts their bottom line and the economic activity they support in the regions where they operate.
According to CARA, dealerships support more than 14,000 jobs in Connecticut and the bill undermines state franchise laws by creating an uneven playing field.
Electric vehicle manufacturers like Rivian and Tesla argued that their models are incompatible with the franchised dealer model.
According to Tesla, the direct sales model offers uniform, transparent pricing and does not derive profit from service and repair operations compared to about 50% of an average franchised dealership’s gross profit that comes from the service department.
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