Eastern Connecticut groups have their agendas ready for legislators [Norwich Bulletin]

January 7, 2015

Article as it appeared in the Norwich Bulletin

With the General Assembly set to convene today, lawmakers are arriving in Hartford plied with legislative agendas crafted by interest groups from nearly every sector.

In Eastern Connecticut, two influential bodies will be looking to add to those agendas by calling for an expansion of tourism dollars and fully reimbursing cities and towns for state-mandated property tax exemptions.

“Certainly, it’s the COG’s desire this legislative agenda would be viewed carefully by our delegation, and I know my board of directors has stated they wish to work with the delegation as partners in seeing these particular points enacted,” James Butler, executive director of the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, said.

The council, which represents 21 communities, has released a five-point plan that urges lawmakers to cut off any future unfunded mandates, improve the state business climate and revise a requirement that municipalities place legal ads in newspapers, among other points.

The council has a strong foothold in Hartford, with state Sens. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, and Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, on its executive committee. Osten still serves on the board in her capacity as first selectman, and Formica is a former chairman.

East Lyme’s charter doesn’t allow Formica to hold two elected offices simultaneously, so he stepped down as first selectman after his election to the legislature.

“I’ve been a municipal leader for seven years and a small business owner for 31, so I think I have a unique perspective,” Formica said. “Certainly, that’s going to give a little bit of an edge in terms of understanding the impact of some of the things we’ll be considering.”

In its legislative agenda, the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut specifically calls for the completion of Route 11, supporting measures that provide tax incentives to support the state’s manufacturing base and continued attention toward the development of diversified and affordable housing.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, which represents 155 local governments that account for 96 percent of the state’s population, is also ready to advance its agenda.

“CCM’s three point state-local strategy for economic success across our 169 municipalities and nine regions means delivering meaningful state support for property tax relief and reform now in all communities; increasing and sustaining the state’s financial commitment for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade public education and ensuring sufficient state investment in the maintenance and construction of local roads and bridges,” said Ron Thomas, the organization’s director of public policy and advocacy.

Formica said easing the burden on residents by cutting property taxes may result in higher costs elsewhere in the economy, but isn’t opposed to considering any policy that would strengthen the state’s fiscal condition.

“We know that aid to municipalities, whether it comes from the state or federal level, is significant to their revenue stream, so you can’t just take a chunk without having an impact on service, on pricing, so we have to be mindful of that,” he said.