City Challenges State To Change Mindset

Markeshia Ricks PhotoMonday felt like Groundhog Day for Matthew Nemerson, as he watched a parade of government and business leaders assembled in New Haven pitch how to move Connecticut’s economy forward.

So he decided to change the script.

The leaders talked about the need for a better trained workforce. They talked about the need to have towns and cities work together. (Holy grail: “Regionalism.”) They talked about dramatically improving the state’s transportation system. They talked about keeping underfunded cities vibrant, and money flowing into state coffers.

Nemerson, New Haven’s economic development chief, heard all that Monday as a state Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth brought its roadshow to York Street for a hearing leading up to a report it’s supposed to provide to legislators on how to “achieve state government fiscal stability and promote economic growth and competitiveness within the state.”

Nemerson has heard people in similar positions make the same point for decades. In fact, as the former head of New Haven’s Chamber of Commerce, he made the same point at similar forums 20 years ago. So did Oz Griebel, back then drafting a strategic plan as head of the MetroHartford Alliance. Griebel was also back making those points Monday, now as a third-party candidate for governor.

The question after Monday’s hearing: With the state facing persistent crippling deficits and losing big employers to neighboring states, will the words translate into action this time?

And will it welcome new ideas? If so, Nemerson and Mayor Toni Harp offered the commission some.

The commission, which was formed in December, held the hearing Monday at “Yale on York” —a meeting space on the bottom floor of a parking garage between Chapel and Crown— to gather ideas it can share with lawmakers. Commissioners will deliver a report to lawmakers in March.

Actually, it was just four days before Groundhog Day. Close enough for Nemerson to feel like he was in a scene from the famous Bill Murray movie about the day that keeps repeating.

“Every issue that’s come up this morning, that has come out in most of this hearing,” has already been submitted to the state in previous plans, Nemerson noted in his testimony before the group. “Everything I was going to say has already been said.”

So Nemerson decided to cut to the chase. In short order, he told the commission, it is time for Connecticut to be different. Different about how the state sees itself as a place between two booming metro areas. Different when it came to its taxes and development incentives. And different by not continuing to hamstring its cities.

“We have to stop making mistakes that we’ve made,” he said. “Doing the same things over and over again doesn’t work. We have to change governance. We have to let cities contract with their suburbs to provide services. We have to look more like other places that have looked at the world — looked 20 years ahead — and been strategically responsible for changing how they do business.”

Among his new additions to the script: Tax commuters to cities. Have a local city department provide services to neighboring towns. Have the University of Connecticut invest more in the Stamford-to-Bridgeport economy.

And he challenged state Transportation Commissioner James Redeker, a commission member, to stop defending bureaucratic turf and let New Haven build a new second garage for Union Station.

“So I would say, Commissioner Redeker if the state doesn’t have the money to let New Haven build its parking garage, give us the chance to do it,” Nemerson said. “Let us work with North Haven to build its train station. There are ways we can create civic infrastructure, and that’s what Bruce [Katz author of New Localism] said. Sometimes cities and metro areas can do things that states and other places can’t.” 

Mayor Toni Harp testified about the need to overhaul CT Transit’s outdated bus routes, which make it take hours for people to reach jobs —-  if they can reach them at all after 5 p.m. or on weekends.

“Looking inward, New Haven will benefit from a revised approach by Connecticut transit and rerouted bus lines no longer favoring the hub and spoke ridership but adding concentric orbits around downtown New Haven to help match workers with jobs and shoppers with stores,” Harp said. “Hand-in-hand with these improvements New Haven will benefit from an intermodal transportation center at an enhanced Union Station with a new parking garage where buses and shuttles can meet trains and connect New Haven with the shoreline and Fairfield County along with Boston, New York and points beyond.”

Harp praised the upcoming expansion of the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield train line. She said a similar forward effort should be focused on making sure that Tweed Airport is part of the state’s transportation agenda.

She also put in a plug for a less obvious type of transportation: the information highway. She said statewide one gigabit Internet access would help fuel the state’s research and technology sectors.

“Connecticut must do all it can to embrace the emerging public utility of the 21st century and make it as universally available to residents, businesses, schools, and governments as running water and electricity are,” she said.

She also noted that given that cities like New Haven have more than 50 percent of the property on their grand list exempted from taxes but “are relied upon to host and bear the cost of a broad range of regional services.” In absence of a county government, “the current system of state aid to Connecticut cities is simply unsustainable,” she said. The most recent numbers show that 54 percent of the city’s property is tax-exempt, Harp noted. But the state has cut its reimbursements to the city under the PILOT (Payments in Lieu of Taxes) program.

Virginia Kozlowski, CEO of Economic Development Corporation of New Haven, said the Greater New Haven region is home to health care, bioscience, higher education and advanced manufacturing but it also is home to a growing hospitality industry. New Haven has more than one million visitors each year, many coming for business conferences and association meetings because of Yale, medical-related travel to Yale-New Haven Hospital and educational tourism.

“Our inherent strength is threatened by an aging transportation infrastructure including rail unreliability and highway traffic congestion,” she said. “Many residents in South-Central Connecticut are employed in the hospitality industry and their jobs depend on robust transportation services for both business and leisure travel.

“If we are not prepared to provide an outstanding experience from beginning to end another state will,” she added.

City Transit Chief Doug Hausladen, the only self-admitted millennial to testify Monday, said as he talks to his peers who are just starting families and considering whether they can raise their children in the city, access to a quality education comes up. Maintaining competitive wages and family and medical leave comes up. The ability of a spouse to obtain a job that doesn’t have more than 30-minute commute comes up.

He encouraged commissioners to have the state reconsider actions that “spite our future” such as cutting public financing, cutting the government transparency provided by the Connecticut Television Network, and not having conversations about redistricting. When it comes to transit he sees value in getting the commute to New York down to an hour, but it’s a plan that has to be funded to happen. He also said he sees CTfastrack rapid transit line as a model for the state of how government can “put our heads together” to develop “good affordable plans.”

“I look forward to redesigning our bus system down here to realign with our investment in Shoreline East—to realign with our investment in the Hartford line,” he said. “We’ve got to get away from this notion that TOD [transit oriented development] is building a parking lot next to a train station rather than redesigning your bus route to get to that train.”

DOT’s Redeker said after meeting that for him, too, much of the talk sounded familiar — in his case, the ideas he has rejected from New Haven on transportation. He noted that his department and New Haven are working together on a transportation study that is part of a statewide effort to get a handle on the needs and how to best address them.

Robert E. Patricelli, one of the commission co-chairs, said the group will hold a couple of more hearings before making its report in March.

He welcomed the tight deadline. “It focuses the mind,” he said. “We’re already starting to see how a handful of ideas might change things.”


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posted by: anonymous on January 29, 2018  4:57pm

The fact that thousands of cities have built tens of thousands of miles of protected bicycle lanes over the past decade, but Connecticut as an entire state has built just one mile-long stretch alongside I-95, is a good indicator of how behind our ConnDOT and state government are. 

It is almost as if nobody at these state meetings has ever gotten around the state by means other than hopping into an expensive car and parking at a downtown parking garage or office park.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 29, 2018  5:45pm

Among his new additions to the script: Tax commuters to cities. Have a local city department provide services to neighboring towns. Have University of Connecticut invest more in the Stamford-to-Bridgeport economy.

Again.Snake-Oil and Three card Monte being sold.All one has to do is take that commuters tax to court and they will win.Bring back tolls.

N.Y.C. Tax on Out-of-State Commuters Is Repealed

The ruling by the state Court of Appeals will cost the city $360 million a year. About 500,000 people live in New York state, outside the city, and commute to jobs in the city, and about 300,000 people commute to the city from other states.

The Legislature rescinded the tax on New Yorkers last year.

A tri-state battle over the tax has been raging since then, when both New Jersey—which sends New York City about 240,000 commuters each day—and Connecticut—which sends about 86,000 a day—sued New York state for only erasing the commuter tax for its own residents.

posted by: LoveNH on January 29, 2018  5:54pm

Agree with Nemerson and Harp here - transportation and internet infrastructure are key.
Broader broadband, a longer
runway, and faster trains (with a new garage) are the regional necessities for good jobs and robust growth.

posted by: robn on January 29, 2018  6:01pm

The state had better do something about regionalism to reduce costs and increased PILOT because it won’t be too much longer before residents stop waiting for the city to file suit against the state and do it themselves. The non-profit property tax exemption is an anachronistic creature of the state that imposes the cost of societal benefits on small urban cores; it’s perfectly clear that this imbalanced back-door taxation violates the equal protection clause of our state constitution.

posted by: Esbey on January 29, 2018  6:10pm

A key point here is that the state can help New Haven a lot simply by freeing us from its bad decisions and constraints. New Haven is one of a few places in the state that can grow population and jobs without being granted massive subsidies. 

I would love to know the tone of the DOT commissioner’s voice when he said that so many of the ideas he heard were the “the ideas he has rejected from New Haven on transportation.”  Is that supposed to be funny or sad or infuriating? 

Without spending a dime, the state could let New Haven: 
—Find a private developer to build a new garage (perhaps with housing and/or office potential, coordinated with the rebuilding of Church Street South) at the train station
—Expand Tweed’s runway, improving our appeal as a business location
—Use automated traffic enforcement (red light and speed cameras, which are proven to improve safety when properly timed)

The state could *improve* its finances by allowing
—Congestion tolls on I-95 (improving job access and funding public transit)
—Marijuana sales (which will attract young folks to college towns!)

In return, New Haven should vigorously allow and encourage unsubsidized development to move forward, building taxes, population and jobs for both the city and state. The resulting tax revenue can support more public services, including affordable housing and education. 

I don’t think asking for money from the state is going to work.  How about asking for *less hindrance*.

posted by: 1644 on January 29, 2018  7:13pm

Suburbanites who work at Yale and YNHH use city services, but neither they nor their employers pay taxes to the city.  It is fair that they do so.  Such a tax, however, would be the death knell for any vestiges of others industries left in New Haven.  Why would an Alexion locate in New Haven where its employees need to pay another tax when it could locate in North Haven, Branford, or Milford, or any of a host of other towns.  Even Yale and YNHH would be pushed to move services and employment out of New Haven.  I know my wife enjoys her free parking at YNHH’s Guilford offices, something she had to pay for in New Haven.
    As Esbey says, New Haven needs to realize it is in a competition with other towns for taxpayers.  It should do all it can to get them.  Instead,  New Haven often promotes more non-profits which add even more to its tax-exempt properties.  The state is broke.  It cannot even fund its pensions.  New Haven needs to do more to help itself.

posted by: LoveNH on January 29, 2018  7:29pm

Esbey hit the nail on the head. We need State to get out of our way and the DOT comment is a perfect example. Why would Hartford do this? It’s because folks in Hartford wrongly see a zero sum game. Deep down they think if New Haven wins, Hartford loses. ( If Tweed expands, Bradley loses. If Union station is a hub, then Hartford isn’t.  If Yale thrives Uconn struggles. If YNHHS expands, Hartford Hispital loses.) This type of policy is wrong headed. We will hang together or surely we will hang separately. Get with it, Hartford!

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on January 29, 2018  7:41pm

While Mayor Harp is correct that the hub and spoke design has real limitations, there are no obvious alternatves. Unlike Manhattan or Chicago, New Haven is not built on a grid. There are few direct routes connecting the eastern and western parts of the city. For example, while Blatchley Ave./Willow Street is an obvious route for connecting Fair Haven and East Rock, neither street goes beyond these neighborhoods. Similarly, service on Fitch St./Morse St. could connect Westville and Newhallville, but aside from SCSU, there aren’t major destinations on this route.

posted by: theNEWnewhaven on January 29, 2018  9:35pm

You want to make sure the city gentrifies?

Tax suburbanites.

You want to hurt the county as a whole?

Tax suburbanites.

This area is already VERY expensive. Taxing someone who lives in Hamden, Durham, Orange…. is ridiculous.

What’s more,... this region is full of SMALL enclaves of dating back to colonial times.

Take this region and transplant it to Texas and they’d LAUGH at us.

Look at the size of Houston!

*Fourth-largest city in the United States, with 4.7 million residents living in 8,778-square miles of the eight-county Houston metropolitan area, making it larger than the state of New Jersey. Harris county, in which Houston resides, is larger than the state of Rhode Island.

Taxing someone in Spring Glenn but then NOT taxing someone in Morris Cove?


posted by: __quinnchionn__ on January 29, 2018  10:29pm

In this case, all I can think of is tolls being put on all the highways in the New Haven area. I think the city should have better transportation and alternative bus routes between Downtown, Union Station, Long Wharf and the Airport. The same goes for people that commute to Yale University/Hospital, UNH and SCSU by bus. I think that the current state in which the transportation system is in is simply not enough. I think that it would be nice to have Streetcars or even a Monorail system in the city, but knowing how the state is New Haven would probably never be able come up with the funding to make those things possible.

posted by: Noteworthy on January 29, 2018  11:23pm

Haha - have the state get out of our way? The state pays half the cost of operating our city. Sure we want them to do that?

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on January 30, 2018  6:50am

Noteworthy, the state pays half of the city’s operating costs In large part because it prohibits the city from taxing half of the property here.

posted by: Noteworthy on January 30, 2018  11:07am

Kevin - Nobody in the whole country taxes non-profits. This is a tired, old excuse for our high taxes and chronic deficit spending. While I think there ought to be some changes to how non-profits or frankly how many assets a non-profit can accumulate before facing some level of taxes - (Yale) - in the case of YNHH -  the state taxes it heavily already.  Just to be really clear - the reason the state pays half our costs has very little to do with our non-profits. Between voluntary PILOTS from them; actual state paid PILOT and all the other pools of cash the city dips into from the same formula - New Haven makes out quite nicely from those non-profits.

posted by: tmctague on January 30, 2018  2:11pm

The State is broke, and the people representing the State came off as outdated, behind the times, and out of touch with 2018.

1.  Harvard University   $36.022B    
2.  Yale University         $27.176B (up 7% since previous year)

Seems ridiculous to ask these White Baby Boomer Men in Suits representing a broke State for permission to innovate and engineer the future of our city’s infrastructure and economy.  Let Hausladen and Zinn do everything, and everyone from the State to the average citizen should encourage Yale to pay for it BAMN.  If cities could guarantee themselves a piece of the growth of the endowment, like 1% for example, then that could give the city and Yale more equal footing because they’d both be interested in growth of the endowment.  That would help fund a lot of things in the city or state, and I (NHPS teacher, resident, future homeowner) would feel better about Yale’s massive pile of wealth if I knew it benefitted me and my students directly/explicitly.  New Haven Promise is a baby step toward this act of charity, but I think Yale can afford to give more.

posted by: RobotShlomo on February 1, 2018  1:42pm

It is almost as if nobody at these state meetings has ever gotten around the state by means other than hopping into an expensive car and parking at a downtown parking garage or office park.

That’s because nobody wants to turn a trip that takes minutes into a trip that takes HOURS. I know how many have their hopes pinned on this country and New Haven turning into Amsterdam or Copenhagen where everyone is a “cyclist” (and I’m starting to hate that term), however riding a bicycle is still a “recreational” in this country. That isn’t changing, at least not overnight, and if it does change it will take a very long time. The New Haven metro area is not an easy area to get around. As I’ve said many times before, it takes an hour to get from Fair Haven to Hamden by bus, and the same trip takes ten minutes by car. By bike it would probably take closer to ninety minutes. Like I keep saying I know the dream many have is to have New Haven full of “freelance graphic designers” who ride a penny farthing to an office once a week, but when they get married, move to Hamden and have kids, the bike goes in the cellar and a Land Rover or Volvo XC60 goes into the garage.

As far as Harp and her comments on the internet, what happened to the CTgigabit project? That was what, three years ago? That was supposed to be up and running by now, and from what I can tell the project is dead in the water. Every time sign on to Frontier I expect to get the AOL dial up soon. And with Ajit Pai now head of the FCC, I wouldn’t count on publicly owned municipal broadband any time soon.

posted by: sandstorm on February 4, 2018  6:17am

The committee members are at or near retirement age Attention to retaining older wealthy residents should not divert attention from our most serious population problems of attracting and retaining young people to grow our economy. This group needs more diversity to suggest original ideas. “Don’t talk about us without us”  Let’s gather a group of successful young people for strategies for growth