Force Connecticut suburbs to allow for multi-family, affordable housing. Invest in faster rail service between New Haven and New York. Regionalize school systems to eliminate duplicative services.
And don’t repeal the income tax. Raise it, at least for high-income families.
Those are a few of the priorities that Democratic candidate Roland Lemar said he plans to pursue if he is reelected to his fifth two-year term as the state representative for the 96th General Assembly district.
The state house seat covers East Rock, Wooster Square, and Quinnipiac Meadows in New Haven, as well as sections of East Haven and Hamden.
Lemar faces off against Republican challenger Eric Mastroianni, Sr. for the 96th District seat in the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 6.
“Equity around housing, education, and regionalism,” Lemar said during a recent interview. “That’s the core of how I’m feeling to put our state in the right position.”
Mastroianni failed to respond to multiple requests for comment on his candidacy by the publication time of this article. (The new New Haven Republican town chair said he has advised his candidates to ignore media requests for interviews.)
Mastroianni’s campaign’s website, reproducing the text and design of that of fellow New Haven Republican candidates’ sites, states that decades of Democratic control of the state legislature have led to “higher taxes, fewer jobs, slower economic growth, higher crime, burdensome city debt levels, and fewer opportunities for advancement.”
On Facebook, Mastroianni states that he works at Colony Hardware in Orange, that he is a veteran of the U.S. Navy, and that he attended Hamden High School.
Lemar, a Wooster Square resident and former two-term East Rock alder, said that his proudest accomplishments throughout his eight years in the General Assembly include passing the earned income tax credit, allowing undocumented immigrant students access to college scholarship funds and allowing them to pay in-state tuition if they spend at least two years at and graduate from any local high school, and passing regulatory legislation that allows for electronic bicycles, contra-flow bike lanes, and other modes of alternative transportation.
“We know that the future of our city is going to be not single cars driving to work,” he said.
Going forward, he said, he plans to prioritize requiring all cities and towns to live up to their legal obligation to allow for multi-family housing to be constructed and to include at least 10 percent of their housing stock as deed-restricted affordable.
“There are a number of towns that openly flaunt that,” he said. “They will never do that. They are a single family, three-acre lot, residential community that only people with generational wealth can acquire access to.”
How will he require those suburbs and small towns to pony up on affordable housing?
“I want to force communities to incorporate multi-family zoning in their towns,” he said. “If they do not, they lose discretionary funds.”
He said he also wants to build an inclusionary zoning model that sets a baseline number of units as restricted affordable when towns approve multi-hundred-unit housing developments. He said that he and other state Democrats are currently looking at an inclusionary zoning model that would set that affordable housing percentage at between 12 and 18 percent of units in new developments, depending on the town’s wealth.
Here’s where Lemar stands on a few other hot button that the state legislature may pick up in the next legislative session.
• Legalization of recreational marijuana: He’s for it.
• Electronic highway tolls: For it.
• Repealing the state income tax: “There are fantasy worlds,” he said. “And then there are worlds that take you hundreds of pages even to understand the world someone has created.” Meaning: he’s definitely against it.
In fact, Lemar wants to increase the income tax, at least for high-income families. He said he would like to see families earning more than $500,000 each year pay an income tax of 7.5 percent. For families earning more than $1,000,000 each year, he said, he would like to see them pay an income tax of 8 percent.
The highest bracket of the state income tax is currently 6.99 percent.
He said he would use the new revenue from increased income taxes to fully fund state Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) and Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) for priority school districts.
• Repealing the $250 state business entity tax: He’s for it, so long as the dollars lost through the repeal of that tax are made up for on a one-for-one basis with a different revenue source.
• Fixing the state’s budget crisis and underfunded pensions: Segregate into two separate pools the pension and healthcare funds for Tier I employees, who have been working for the state since 1991 or earlier, and all employees hired since 1991.
And then come up with some new revenue source, either a healthcare premium tax or some other separate state fee, that can be directed towards addressing those older public employee’s underfunded retirement and healthcare benefits.
“We have solved our pension and healthcare issues for current employees,” he said. “But we are recognizing an extraordinary debt that we owe to the system to take care of our obligations to Tier I employees.”
• More public transportation investment: Lemar said he would like to see the state work with Connecticut’s federal delegation to secure more funding for rail improvements to the Metro North train system with the goal of achieving a 30 minute ride from New Haven to Bridgeport, a 60 minute ride from New Haven to Stamford, and a 90 minute ride from New Haven to New York City.
• Education funding: Lemar said he would like to see the state stop subsidizing private school tuitions through tax breaks offered on 529 or CHET accounts.
He said he would also like to the regionalization of school services so that 140 different public school systems throughout the state aren’t duplicating administrative and educational work, often at the cost of cities and low-income students.
“We would save millions upon millions of dollars,” he said about school regionalization, “and those dollars would be put into teachers, into textbooks, and into improving educational outcomes.”