March Madness

March 27, 2015

The 2015 legislative session is in full swing. Every day we are seeing more and more proposals that would make you incredulous. The latest round of Harford “March Madness ” comes in the form of two bills; one aimed at taking local control completely away for any property one half mile around a rail or bus station and the other aimed at taking your local property tax dollars to redistribute them across the state.

Yes, double trouble.

The first proposal would create the Connecticut Transit Corridor Development Authority, a quasi-state agency appointed by the Governor, whose sole responsibility would be to redevelop property around train and bus stations.

This new authority could use eminent domain to seize property within a half-mile radius of any train or bus station. Connecticut has had a bad history when it comes to eminent domain issues.

Ask New London homeowners – who were forced to sell their property near Fort Trumbull to private developers who were to build great things for the public good. Their case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005. The Supreme Court action allowed states to protect the private homeowners, but Connecticut failed to do this for its citizens and thereby left homeowners exposed.

Ten years later the property is an empty wasteland.

Better yet, ask the families who used to live in Bridgeport’s Steele Point and were forcibly relocated around the city for a development project that 20 years later is still in the planning stage.

The threshold for a state to seize land in the name of redevelopment for the greater good should be high. This new authority would have more power than local leaders and circumvent planning and zoning authorities.

A committee of the Norwalk Common Council voted 7-0 last week denouncing the legislation. Councilman David McCarthy said, “To take people’s property and convert it even for a reasonable transit project didn’t sit well with any of us.”

The new group would also be able to sell bonds to finance a project, enter into agreements that may not include what the local residents want. The bill before the legislature also spells out the make-up of this authority; 11-members appointed by the governor, the General Assembly’s leadership and select state agency commissioners.

What about the mayor or first selectman in the town where a project might be proposed? After much handwringing it has been suggested the local leader would serve as one voting ex-officio member out of 11. At first they were not even given a vote!

The Planning and Development Committee debating this idea is apparently set to remove the authority’s eminent domain power and delete the section requiring municipalities to cooperate with this new quasi-government group. Instead, rumor has it that the State Attorney General would draw up a memorandum of understanding between the group and the local municipality. I say buyer beware.

Many of us believe a transit authority is unnecessary. The state department of transportation already provides the same function as the proposed authority.

More Taxes?

The second bill up for consideration is also before the legislature’s Planning and Development Committee. If passed, it would create a new regional taxing authority. The plan requires the establishment of a “regional property tax base revenue sharing system”.

Under this system, each municipality would send part of its local property taxes to a regional Council of Governments. That group would then redistribute the money to towns and cities around the state. People were immediately suspicious when this entity was created two years ago concerned it would be used to create another layer of taxes.

Instead of trying to spend less, the mantra in Hartford is to find ways to feed a state spending addiction. The leaders driving these issues have publically stated, “We will be looking at a number of different options, including allowing the municipalities to raise some additional revenues locally.”

In addition to the local property tax, senate leaders have suggested allowing municipalities to impose a minimal sales tax apart from the state sales tax already on the books. Aren’t we taxed enough?

Recently, a leader from a neighboring town said aptly, “The destiny of our town will be lost to a new group of bureaucrats who, in all likelihood, will give no more than two hoots for what we need in a town that has been in existence for over 250 years.”

When, I asked veteran financial experts that have worked on Connecticut’s budget for decades if the state’s budget problems are as bad as when the state enacted its new income tax in 1991- they responded no – “Connecticut’s financial condition is much worse now than it was in 1991.”

These damaging bills will not have my support. This is not the way to govern. Some of us have presented alternatives to these proposals and to Connecticut’s cycle of spend and tax. It is now up to responsible legislators to lead the way out of the financial mess that has been created –without further hurting the people of Connecticut.

If you have an opinion on these proposals please call 860-240-8500 or 860-240-8600 to voice your thoughts.