City Capitol Agenda: Hold Onto State Aid

Markeshia Ricks Photo Preserving state funding is the Harp administration’s top focus for the new session of Connecticut’s legislature. It has some other priorities on its agenda, too.

With the state facing $1.3 billion to $1.5 billion budget deficit, New Haven is keeping a close eye on the governor’s office to see whether Gov. Dannel P. Malloy can keep a pledge to protect school aid to cities

Malloy made that promise in a “state of the state” speech last month. He is expected to unveil the details of how he plans to keep that promise Wednesday in his budget address to the legislature.

City officials will be listening closely, and preparing to lobby for a legislative agenda on which it has just put finishing touches.

“The main priorities for the city are definitely the state aid that we receive in the form of the [Payment In Lieu of Taxes] program,” Michael Harris, who runs point for the Harp administraton on state and intergovernmental affairs, said in an interview. “Because of the extensive amount of nonprofit property that exists around the city, more than half of the property value in the city is not taxable and the state has a reimbursement program for that, because the city doesn’t have any other revenue sources other than the property tax.”

He said New Haven is supposed to get about 77 cents on the dollar in PILOT reimbursements for revenues lost on state tax-exempt properties, but it receives closer to 44 cents.

“That’s put the city in a tough financial position,” Harris said. “So we want to make sure we increase the state’s investment in cities that really are the economic drivers of the region and the state.”

New Haven’s general receives $221.3 million from the state this year, according to mayoral spokesman Laurence Grotheer. Of that, $148.3 million is for education; the other $73 million covers other grants and PILOT reimbursements.

Getting full funding for education is especially important for New Haven, Harris said, because the city provides many additional programs that other school districts don’t, such as English as a second language, trauma-informed care and social/emotional resources and learning.

“The New Haven education system is on the forefront of restorative justice, rehabilitative practices and diversionary discipline,” Harris said. “We want to make sure that New Haven Public Schools are given the resources that they need, particularly following on the CCJEF [Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding] decision, which was a historic statement about the inequality of education funding in the state currently.”

Last September, Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher declared the state’s education finance system unconstitutional and gave the state 180 days to revise it.

It’s also important because city schools are currently running a more than $4 million deficit in its current fiscal budget and expects and even bigger shortfall next year given the expiration of certain state and federal grants.

Priorities, Priorities

Allan Appel Photo Here are some other highlights from the city’s legislative agenda:

Bonds For Trowbridge Center/Barbell Club
The city wants about $4 million in bonding money to establish a youth center in the Hill at the former Barbell Club in Trowbridge Square. Harris said the building needs a lot of rehabilitation and environmental remediation to get it in shape to be a space for youth services, after-school programs and a community meeting and event space.

“We have an opportunity to have this great building but it needs a decent amount of rehabilitation and remediation,” he said. “We have a hump we need to get over to get it to a place where we can program it. It is a major priority of the mayor’s particularly as the Q House is starting to come on, that in addition to the Q House, there are youth programs in every neighborhood because people don’t really have the transportation to get to the Q House from other parts of the city.”

State Rep. Juan Candelaria is the bill’s main sponsor with other members of the New Haven delegation signed on to support. It’s currently before the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee.

Thomas Macmillan Photo Bonds For Shubert Theater
Harris said the city is supporting the Shubert’s request for $4 million in state bond funds to help in the second phase of the theater’s centennial construction plan. The first phase has already been completed, including addressing some structural issues and a renovation of the interior of the theater. Harris said the renovations of the theater have allowed it to increase the frequency and size of the shows that it offers, and that has in turn made the theater more attractive not only to New Haveners, but people outside of the city, including those from out of state.

“They have an economic impact study that shows an increase in jobs and the vitality they bring to the downtown,” Harris said. “As we attempt to position New Haven as a cultural focal point of the state, and as a place that has that vitality, a state investment in something like the Shubert Theater,” is good for the city and the state. The second phase of the project focuses on structural improvements to the lobby, concessions and improves access.

“If we can get more people coming into New Haven and spending from outside of New Haven, even from outside of the state, that’s a major investment that we should be making. The second phase would be focusing on structural improvements to the lobby and edifice for better accessibility and concessions, which would improve the economic vitality in the long run.”

A Halfway House For Women
New Haven receives as many as 1,000 people who are released from prison each year; it does not have a halfway house for women. Harris said the mayor wants the Department of Corrections to get one going. Harris said research shows that those transitioning from incarceration to freedom who have access to halfway house resources have lower rates of recidivism and higher rates of probation completion.

“This is an important thing particularly because of housing insecurity, food insecurity, job insecurity coming out of prison, that can lead people to dangerous situations and drive people into recidivism,” he said. “The needs of women transitioning out of incarceration are different from the needs of men.”

“There are six funded women halfway houses in the state, but there is not one in New Haven County,” Harris added. “So it’s a major priority of the mayor that this is a resource that is provided for those people who are being released back into our society from New Haven County. [State Rep.] Robyn Porter has been a strong champion on this issue, and we want to make sure it stays part of the conversation.”

1-Cent-Per-Ounce Tax On Sugar-Added Drinks
Paul Bass Photo The idea of a one penny per ounce tax on sugary drinks—not just soda—has been championed by the the American Heart Association. Harp has pushed for the legislation since her days as a state senator.

“The rationale is that an increased tax provides financial motivation to change behavior on the part of consumers and that of vendors,” Harris said. The money generated from the tax “could then go for funding education programs about childhood health and the dangers of an imbalanced diet

“Rates of obesity and diabetes are particularly high in high-need communities and have been going up year after year, and it’s something that needs to be addressed,” he added. “Some of the other places that have instituted a tax like this have seen some results in the first few years of implementation.”

He noted that the tax would be regressive at first, disproportionately hitting the poor, but as people change their behavior and make healthier choices it would be less so.

The city also is seeking to give building officials the power to issue and collect fines for construction conducted without building code permits; require building owners with 100 or more units of senior housing to install emergency generators for use during power outages; and convince the governor to keep the conversation open about the redevelopment of Union Station.

Blood From A Turnip

Markeshia Ricks Photo Gov. Malloy signaled in a preview this week that part of his budget will include a state mandate relief for towns and cities across the state that will provide more flexibility and resources “for making local government leaner and more cost efficient,” according to a press release.

“This mandate relief package is designed to increase local control over budgets and contracts, keep down project costs, modernize out-of-date requirements, and remove unnecessary red tape,” the release continued.

Harris said many of the governor’s mandate relief proposals have been advocated by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities for a number of years, and his announcement is part of the “give and take” of the budget process.

“This is setting up a conversation that will emerge for real in his budget address next Wednesday,” he said. “We’re optimistic that as a former mayor, he is understanding of the needs and pressures that cities have and are under as they put together their budgets and look forward to seeing a full package of proposals.”

Harris said the city is hoping that Malloy’s proposals put New Haven closer to the statutory rate of reimbursement which would provide the city more than $40 million or $50 million for its budget.

“If you look over the years…New Haven has actually shrunk part of its workforce,” he said. “A lot of our departments are at 50 percent staffing compared to what they were in 2000-2001. Our parks and recs, and DPW are prime examples of where staff reductions have happened and is part of the reason New Haven is on a better financial footing.”

But Harris said the continued squeeze of cities is a dangerous path at a time when cities need more investment.

“In the governor’s ‘State of the State’ address he highlighted the need to invest in major cities that are important economic drivers, but also to make those cities doing well more successful and able to be some of the strongest places in the state for attracting jobs and young people and people coming back in from out of state,” he said. “One of the encouraging things about this year is that we’re seeing some transformative proposals. They’re moonshot ideas, rather than nickels and dimes. It’s not a game of inches.”

Harris pointed in particular to a Connecticut Voices for Children proposal to possibly remodel education funding based on how Vermont pays for its schools. “As the governor comes out with his proposals, it’s encouraging that he’s really looking at ways that we can transform rather than edit how cities are supported by the state,” he said.

Harris added that the mayor is aware that any proposal that requires new funding is going to be a tough sell, but it’s important to make certain “that a need is neither ignored or forgotten by the state.”

He also said that the Harp administration is urging New Haveners to get involved in advocating for the priorities and bills they care about that are being considered in Hartford, by learning who their representatives are and by “writing testimony, participating in a public hearing, or traveling to Hartford to speak directly with legislators about an issue.” You can also contact Harris if you want to get further involved by emailing him.

“New Haven is lucky to have a delegation that champions urban issues and investment – and many of the City’s priorities include supporting Senate President Pro Tem Marty Looney and Appropriations Chair Toni Walker as they work with the rest of our delegation to protect the municipal aid and services programs they’ve developed over the years,” Harris said. “New Haven legislators have played key roles on bills ranging from car tax relief to minority teacher recruitment, nonprofit funding support to affordable housing.”

Following is a list of bills of particular interest to the city being considered by the legislature this session. It includes links to more information about the bills; we will update the status of the bills as the session proceeds.

Kevin E. McCarthy contributed to this report.

The 2017 Agenda

Bill #StatusSummarySponsors
SB11/ HB5539Committee DeniedWould legalize, tax recreational use of marijuana.Candelaria
Dillon
Lemar
Walker
Porter
et al
SB 17Committee ApprovedWould make certain undocumented immigrant students (DREAMers) eligible for state college financial aid.Looney
HB 5434Committee ApprovedWould have CT join with other states to elect the President based on popular, rather than Electoral College, vote.Winfield,
Porter
Albis
Elliott
D'Agostino
et al.
HB 5458, HB 6058Committee ApprovedWould establish electronic tolls on state highways.Genga
HB 5575Committee DeniedWould regulate companies such as Uber and Lyft.Scanlon
HB 5589Committee ApprovedWould expand disclosure requirements for contributions to campaign funds.Dillon
Lemar
D'Agostino
Elliott
et al.
HB 5591Passed HouseWould require equal pay for employees doing comparable work.Dillon
Walker
Lemar
Albis
D'Agostino
Elliott
et al.
HB 5703Committee DeniedWould have CT enter into an agreement with other states to limit "poaching" of each other's businesses.Lemar
HJ 13/HJr 95Passed HouseWould amend the state constitution to permit early voting.Lemar
HJ 16In CommiteeWould amend the state constitution to permit absentee voting for all voters.Lemar
SB 1/HB 6212Committee ApprovedWould require employers to provide paid family and medical leave for their employees.Looney
SB 2Committee ApprovedWould make the education funding formula more equitable.Duff
SB 8Committee DeniedWould allow municipalities to adopt a 0.5% sales tax.Looney
SB 10/HB 5743Passed HouseWould strengthen hate crime laws.Winfield
SB 13/HB 6208/HB 6456Committee ApprovedWould increase the minimum wage.Looney
Winfield
et al.
Albis
Candelaria
D'Agostino
Elliott
Lemar
Paolillo
Porter
Walker
SB 137Committee DeniedWould expand birth-to-three and provide universal pre-school, among other things.Gerratana
SJ 5Committee ApprovedWould amend the state constitution to create a "lock-box" for transportation funding.Duff
HB 5588Committee DeniedWould limit certain bond allocations.Dillon
Lemar
Albis
Walker
Elliott
et al.
HB 5912HB 6127Committee DeniedWould establish a 1-cent/ounce tax on sugared beverages.Lemar
Elliott
et al.
HB 6554Committee DeniedWould tax carried interest as ordinary income.Porter
Albis
Lemar
Elliott
Winfield
Candelaria
Dillon
D'Agostino
et al.
HB 5831Committee DeniedWould provide bonding for transitional housing for NH female ex- offenders.Porter
Candelaria
Lemar
Winfield
Looney
Paolillo
SB 631Committee DeniedWould provide bonding to make structural improvements to the Shubert Theatre.Winfield
Looney
Walker
Porter
Lemar
Candelaria
Paolillo
HB 6863Committee DeniedWould authorize bonds for renovating the Barbell Club as a youth/ community center.Canelaria
Porter
Paolillo
Lemar
Winfield
SB 649Committee ApprovedWould allow local building officials to impose fines for building w/o a permit.Looney
Winfield
Walker
Candelaria
Lemar
Porter
Paolillo
Et al.
SB 590/591Committee DeniedWould limit police ccoperation w/Immigration and Customs Enforcement (590); establish an immigrant's bill of rightsWinfield
SB 20Committee DeniedWould require affordability to be considered in reviewing proposed health insurance rate hikes.Looney
HB 6352Committee ApprovedWould establish a deposit system for car tires.Ritter
Gresko
McCrory
HB 6901Committee DeniedWould impose a surtax on large employers that pay an average wage less than $15/hour.Elliott
HB 7278Committee ApprovedWould convey Union Station to New Haven, among other things.Gov't Administration and Elections

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posted by: wendy1 on February 6, 2017  7:38pm

There is nothing to smile about….and I dont hold out much hope for any of these projects, worthy or wasteful.  We are broke and the state is broke.  The state houses another pool of sharks like DC who are totally disinterested in the three black cities in CT.

Another bad piece of news, the rich only like giving to the rich.  So aside from fighting for our “immigrants”  we are going to have to fight for $$$, very much an uphill battle.  Get out your helmets, goggles, balaclavas, and running shoes.  Civil disobedience takes courage and some pain tolerance.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 6, 2017  7:57pm

How about a bill to get rid of the two party duopoly and replace it with proportional representation.

posted by: Noteworthy on February 7, 2017  4:30pm

This is a Michael Harris lie notes:

1. “If you look over the years…New Haven has actually shrunk part of its workforce,” he said. “A lot of our departments are at 50 percent staffing compared to what they were in 2000-2001. Our parks and recs, and DPW are prime examples of where staff reductions have happened and is part of the reason New Haven is on a better financial footing.”

2. The total city employment has not shrunk - it has grown. That the city stripped jobs out of Parks and Recs and DPW at times over the years were choices of employment. But the workforce has not changed. Under Harp, it has grown. In fact, Parks and Rec opted to add another supervisor to its staff instead of workers that could actually do the work in the last budget.

3. Then there is the great perennial myth of PILOT - the 77 cents vs. 44 cents. This of course, doesn’t take into account any of the private PILOTS that are paid by those same non-taxable properties like Yale and YNHH.

4. We couldn’t be remiss to note that the city provides all these extra-educational services and therefore deserves a bigger piece of the pie than just anybody in the whole state. You don’t have to provide those services or keep coming up with new ones to justify a bigger piece of pie. We’re fat enough already and it makes us doubly dependent on the state.

5. A note about full funding of ECS for cities - Despite the growth of charter schools, and the state paying $11,000 per kid to the charter school - that kid is also funded to the NHPS. Yes, the state is paying twice for the same kid and has for years. So while the NHPS is getting paid for phantom students from our tax dollars, they’re constantly carping about school funding. It seems especially piggish in light of the epic school construction program that has harvested $1.7 billion and counting in new schools regardless of our need or any financial sense - and a premium from ECS for magnet school designation.

6. Nobody likes Transport lockbox. LOL

posted by: Perspective on February 7, 2017  5:26pm

Lets examine some of the highlights of this article:

“because the city provides many additional programs that other school districts don’t, such as English as a second language, trauma-informed care and social/emotional resources and learning.”—could this be because New Haven CHOSE to be a ‘sanctuary city’

“The money generated from the tax “could then go for funding education programs about childhood health and the dangers of an imbalanced diet”—-lets be honest, this money will go into the general fund

“The idea of a one penny per ounce tax on sugary drinks—not just soda—has been championed by the the American Heart Association. Harp has pushed for the legislation since her days as a state senator.”—So why stop at sugar, perhaps we should tax whole milk due to its fatty content, potato chips, cookies, fried foods.