The Day Editorial: Fasano Properly Labels Yard Goat Scheme “Outrageous”

May 4, 2015

Editorial as it appeared in The Day

When New Britain’s baseball team was lured to Hartford by the promise of a multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art baseball park, the state had “no intention of participating in this program,” Gov. Dannel Malloy said.

The state wasn’t going to be part of taking a team from one Connecticut community and planting it in another, although the Malloy administration had subsidized the removal of other businesses from one community to another in the past. Hartford city officials and owners of the team also assured everyone they wouldn’t be seeking subsidies from the taxpayers. But that quickly changed and the city and its supporters in the legislature have been floating various schemes to get a little help from the state.

The first plan would have had Hartford using the $426,000 collected by proceeds from the state’s 10 percent state admissions tax to help pay for the new home of the former New Britain Rock Cats, recently reborn as the Hartford Yard Goats.

The trouble with this plan was rather clear: It’s against the law. Since 2011, the state has required owners of nearly all of the state’s amusement, entertainment and recreation venues to charge the tax on admissions or dues. The money, $10.3 million from admissions and $23.5 million from dues in the last fiscal year, goes to the state’s general fund.

And when Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra appeared before the General Assembly’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee on April 20 to ask that the tax should go to Hartford, some legislators objected to breaking the law.

Sen. Len Fasano pointed out that the decision to move the New Britain team from one city to another was made by the team owners, not by taxpayers and, therefore, “Connecticut families should not be held responsible for paying for any part of this move.”

Among those agreeing with Sen. Fasano was Gov. Malloy, who said no one from Hartford had approached him with the proposal that Hartford keep the admission taxes. “Lots of things get proposed by legislators,” the governor observed, rather pointedly, to CT News Junkie. “Lots of them never see the light of day.”

That did it for the admissions tax plan and with the coming of May, the plan’s principal sponsor, Hartford Sen. John Fonfara, who is also the finance committee’s co-chair, replaced it with a new scheme.

This one would let the state issue general obligation bonds financed by part of the sales and hotel taxes generated by the ballpark development site, that so far includes housing, retail outlets, parking and a brewery. It does not, however, include a hotel, even though the proposal allegedly is backed by hotel taxes, and The Hartford Courant reports the developers have said there is no plan to build a hotel. There’s also another problem with this proposal, in addition to using hotel taxes without the convenience of a hotel. The cost is unknown and will be determined in closed-door negotiations as part of the state budget, thanks to Sen. Fonfara’s skill at getting it through his finance committee and into the budget negotiations.

Sen. Fasano has quite properly labeled this latest method of getting some state money to the ballpark “outrageous,” noting that “the depths that these people are going to have the taxpayers pay for this stadium is unbelievable.” Except for being more secretive, this plan is no different from the original attempt to grab the admissions taxes for a stadium that was supposed to have been built without state assistance.

Both of these schemes resemble what Rep. Rick Lopes said of the original admissions tax proposal. He at first smelled a rat, but on further reflection, “I’d have to say it smells like a yard goat.”