Looney Takes A Victory Lap 31 Years In Making

Paul Bass PhotoIt took three decades. Suddenly Martin Looney was able to shepherd ambitious ideas into new laws—and have the governor’s office help him, not stand in the way.

Pot decriminalization. Paid sick days for service workers. In-state tuition for undocumented workers’ children. A state earned income tax credit for the working poor. Stricter rules for eyewitness identification of suspected crooks. ...

For years Looney (pictured) pushed for those ideas with his fellow state lawmakers from New Haven at the Capitol in Hartford.

For years Republican governors stopped those from becoming law.

Then, for the first time in 20 years, a Democratic governor took office this year. As majority leader of the state Senate, Looney was able to shepherd these and a long list of other backed-up bills to passage, and then see Gov. Dannel P. Malloy sign them.

It was the most satisfying state legislative year Looney has had since New Haveners first elected him to the state House of Representatives in 1980, then the state Senate in 1992.

“It was the the best and most productive session I can recall,” Looney said over coffee at the Long Wharf Greek Olive, a week after the session concluded. “A lot of things we were working on for a long time, we were able to get past the goal line.”

A self-effacing figure by nature, Looney, whh’s 62, hesitates to draw attention to himself. He noted that many others pushed this year’s bounty of bills past the goal line line, too, including New Haven colleagues such as “The Two Tonis”—state Sen. Toni Harp and state Rep. Toni Walker, who co-chaired the powerful Appropriations Committee—and grassroots activists interested in specific legislation. (he made a point of naming each New Haven legislator and a bill he or she championed.)

“I’ve never quite seen the [New Haven] delegation work with such shared purpose and such an aggressive agenda,” observed Mayor John DeStefano. “I think they were as effective as any group I have worked with in my 28 years with the city. They did a great job. You saw a real group of leaders emerge.”

For Looney the cascade of legislative victories was particularly sweet, and the longest time in coming: No one else in the legislature has served longer than Looney. (He and Wallingford State Rep. Mary Mushinsky are tied for most years in office.) As majority leader, he was responsible for making sure legislation made past opposition maneuvers and scheduling roadblocks.

And for more than a decade he watched Republican Gov. John Rowland, then M. Jodi Rell, thwart his top-priority proposals.

Last year he made an influential endorsement of Dan Malloy before the Democratic gubernatorial primary; Malloy committed to supporting many of Looney’s key projects, and Looney allies helped assemble a vote-pulling operation that put Malloy over the top in both the primary and the general election.

And in this year’s legislative session, the world changed.

New Math

Or at least the math. And the role of of the chief executive’s team.

When pot decriminalization came up, for instance. Looney and Harp first proposed the idea in 2009. It made it through the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, but no further; with support tight, there was no chance of assembling enough votes in the Senate to override an expected gubernatorial veto. In 2011, Looney no longer needed to worry about assembling a veto-proof 24 votes; 18 would suffice.

And as in the past, Looney was consulting on strategy with longtime colleague Mike Lawlor as the bill advanced. Only this time Lawlor wasn’t a fellow state legislator—he was a Malloy appointee, and a point person on criminal justice measures. In the end, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman broke a tie vote in the Senate, and Connecticut law changed: as of July 1, possessing under a half-ounce of pot will get you a $150 ticket, not a criminal record. (More details here.)

Lawlor also helped Looney shepherd to passage a controversial “risk reduction earned credit” law that enables inmates to reduce their sentences by participating in prison programs or treatment.

Looney and allies got a bill passed in 2007 to allow children of undocumented parents in Connecticut to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities. Gov. Rell vetoed the measure. It didn’t have a chance again until this year—when it passed into law with Malloy’s support.

The earned income tax credit? Every New England and mid-Atlantic state that has an income tax—except Connecticut—offered that break to low-wage workers. Gov. Rell balked at the idea and killed it during a crucial last-minute negotiation in the past, Looney said. This year it passed, and Connecticut will join the club.

Medicaid coverage for diabetics’ podiatry visits? Gov. Rowland killed the idea when Looney and colleagues first pushed it. It passed this year. Same with mandated insurance coverage for ancillary medical treatment for patients participating in clinical trials for major illnesses other than cancer.

Those 18 votes were enough to pass the first-in-the-nation state law requiring some companies (service companies with over 50 employees) to give sick workers paid days off. (Read about that here.)

“It’s exhilarating and empowering,” Looney said of legislating in the new environment.

Plenty of other long-nurtured ideas passed because of the new Capitol calculus, even if they weren’t all proposals that Republican governors specifically killed in the past, Looney said. He cited, among other new laws:

• Permission granted to New Haven to allow the police chief to weigh in on new liquor licenses, in response to a local campaign against problem bars.

• A school bullying law.

• A measure requiring cops to present photos, and possible suspects at line-ups, one at a time when asking victims and eyewitnesses to identify criminals. The measure, cosponsored with Looney by New Haven State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, also establishes a commission to review other best practices. “The conventional wisdom for years has been that the victim will be a good witness,” when in fact witnesses are often so traumatized that the opposite is true, Looney says. He cited the landmark cases that sparked the legislation: the 18-year imprisonment of James Tillman on a rape charge until DNA cleared him. The victim had identified him as the rapist.

• A “custodial interrogation” measure requiring taping of suspects’ confessions.

• Expansion of the tax credit companies can claim—from $75,000 to $150,000, up to 60 percent of their tax liability—under the Neighborhood Assistance Act when they donate to not-for-profit agencies. (The expansion doesn’t add to the budget; the program remains capped at $5 million a year.)

• Allowing up to 30 percent of the teachers at charter schools to be non-certified.

• Giving the education commissioner leeway in interpreting an auditing requirement that could have cost New Haven up to $37 million. It covers reimbursement for school construction. Enrollment figures came up short in some of the newly built and rebuilt city schools in recent years, based on state auditing rules. But those rules are based on neighborhood schools; the new law, pushed by Looney and “the two Tonis,” will allow New Haven schools, which are citywide schools of choice, to be looked at more like magnet schools in this area, Looney said.

Unfinished Business

The new legislative calculus came up short on one bill Looney has supported for years. And that was a surprise.

That was the bill to abolish Connecticut’s death penalty. Rep. Holder-Winfield, a key early Malloy supporter, has led the fight to pass that bill. He succeeded in getting it through the legislature two years ago, only to have Rell veto it. Malloy promised to sign it if elected. But he didn’t get the chance: two former abolition supporters in the legislature decided not to vote for abolition this year because of the Cheshire Petit case.

The second trial in the Petit case should be over when the legislature next meets in 2012, Looney noted. And Dan Malloy will still be governor.

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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on June 16, 2011  11:44am

How about a bill on Term Limits Mr.Looney.

posted by: Andrew Ross on June 16, 2011  12:32pm

Congrats Martin! You deserve a victory celebration!  Great work!

posted by: Atwater on June 16, 2011  12:41pm

The Democrats are doing more damage than good, especially in regards to the state’s economy. Although I support the abolition of the death penalty, I cannot support the Dream Act (the CT version) and I am absolutely against the requirement of paid sick leave. Mr. Looney is a dedicated public servant, but his policies and ideas will only further cripple the state’s economy and dissolve the working-class and middle-class. New Haven Democrats, like all Democrats, don’t mind the tax and spend model that has made their party popular with the state’s minorities, poor and bourgeois liberals. Even though the people of New Haven are happy to live in such an environment, the citizenry of the rest of the state will react negatively to such fiscal and social irresponsibility.

posted by: Bill on June 16, 2011  1:13pm

Congratulation Mr. Looney, you greatly helped this state become bankrupt.

posted by: Carrie Paultzer on June 16, 2011  1:47pm

I know Marty has worked relentlessly but does he have any idea what he is doing to the middle income families? Don’t care really a whole lot about the legalization of pot in small amounts but his agenda is so liberal that he is hurting the average working family. I am a democrat living in New Haven and really I am not to happy with Marty and many of our other delegation. Change has just got to come locally and at the capital for the taxpayers sake in the state and New Haven.

posted by: Henry Fernandez on June 16, 2011  2:12pm

Marty should be extremely proud.  He and his office did an amazing job this session.  As a Fair Haven resident, I get to vote for Marty every two years.  I have always been happy to do so.

But this year, I have gone from happy with Marty as my Senator to inspired by his leadership.

Thank you Senator.

posted by: Cynthia Frawley on June 16, 2011  2:15pm

Required paid sick leave is one of the worst things you can do to a business, but I’m not surprised…Connecticut has been killing businesses for years now.

posted by: streever on June 16, 2011  2:39pm

The 20 years of Republican policies sure have gotten us somewhere! The Democrats really are ruining life for middle class Americans, as they increase the taxes on the wealthy (but still keep them vastly under what the wealthy would pay in NY just over the border) and work to reduce the system that harshly penalizes young lower-income men.

Sorry, but I’m really lost in what you’re stating here. Can you provide any concrete examples of ways in which Democratic policies hurt the economy?

The United States Budget Office has concluded that in general, Democratic policies and market regulation are responsible for building our economy at a much faster rate than Republican. I haven’t seen any in-depth analysis that contradicts that, just read a bunch of talking points.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on June 16, 2011  3:29pm

posted by: streever on June 16, 2011 2:39pm

Sorry, but I’m really lost in what you’re stating here. Can you provide any concrete examples of ways in which Democratic policies hurt the economy?

.Democrat Pushing for Higher Gas Prices
By Liberty On March 3, 2011


Freedom Rider: Don’t Vote for Democrats

Tue, 04/19/2011 - 22:45 — Margaret Kimberley


And don’t forget King John.

posted by: Atwater on June 16, 2011  3:38pm

@streever: Democrat backed tax policies have already driven away amazon.com, which will hurt countless of small/medium Connecticut businesses. The Democratic legislature increased spending and raised taxes, $2 billion tax hike. The cost of doing business in Connecticut is going to be a lot higher than it was, and even back when there was a GOP governor it was high. And then there is the paid sick leave bill, which will make it more difficult for small business owners to turn a profit, or even stay in business. We have not yet begun to feel the impact of the current budget, but give it time. My predicition, unemployment will climb and the State will go bankrupt.
Here is a link that explains the situation a lot better than I can.
Also, just because I am criticizing the Dems does not mean I support, or supported, the Republicans. True, I did not want Foley to win, but only because I knew Malloy would raised taxes (and he did!).
Market regulation is important, but tax hikes do not create lasting economic stability. Lower business taxes and other incentives are needed to lure businesses back to Connecticut, as well as less bureaucracy and corruption. Personally I do not think either party can help our state, the Dems are too inept and the Republicans are too corrupt.
Where are the Libertarian-Socialists when you need them?

posted by: Vinny G on June 16, 2011  3:43pm

Look at what the democratic party has done for New Haven?

posted by: cba on June 16, 2011  3:46pm

... His ideas are an example of the low quality of   foresight and talent in state elected offices

posted by: streever on June 16, 2011  4:00pm


1. Sick days bill exempts employers with less than 50 employees (how many small businesses fit that bill?)

2. The increase in taxes is largely an increase in taxes on wealthy residents, who, by demographics, work in New York state and live near the border. The tax burden they’d have in New York is I believe 3 times the tax burden they have in CT. What are they going to do? Move to Jersey? Jersey has higher taxes on the wealthy than CT also.

The whole “raised taxes” thing is a total non-starter in any conversation because it is a completely loaded and inaccurate statement. If anything, the tax burden has been shifted to be more equitable.

The poorest residents in CT paid a HIGHER percentage than the richest. It was a very unequal and unfair system of taxation. Pardon me if I shed no tears for a wealthy person who works in New York and avoids paying the NY taxes by living in F airfield county.

Can you demonstrate that our state is doing worse under Dan Malloy than it did under Rell or Roland? I don’t think there is any data supporting that assertion, but a lot of rhetoric and a lot of slams on the Democrats which are really inaccurate and disingenuous.

posted by: JAK on June 16, 2011  4:10pm


Seriously, “The United States Budget Office”? 

The busway is a $100 million state boondoggle (not to mention another $400 million from the feds)to build a line from New Britain to Hartford.  16,000 riders per week day?  Ridership will be half of that.  Waste, waste, waste.

UCONN hospital?  A billion state subsidy package to bail out a hospital that hasn’t run at breakeven, well, ever.  A bio-science center?  Do you think that these legislators understand a thing about bio-science? Or about how to attract and build a bio-science cluster?

Do you think its right for private hospitals like Yale-New Haven to have to subsidize an inferior competitor through the imposition of a brand new $17 million hospital tax which this state-run hospital doesn’t have to pay? 

Answer one simple question: Can you explain why Dempsey hospital jobs in Farmington are more important than Yale/New Haven hospital jobs in New Haven?

posted by: Atwater on June 16, 2011  4:49pm

@streever: Malloy and the legislature did raise taxes. The tax burden might have shifted, but the rates went up. It is simple, Malloy himself even admits taxes went up. Actually, it was something he said he probably would do during his campaign (at least Malloy is honest). These rate hikes will deter businesses from coming to Connecticut and might cause businesses to leave Connecticut. Amazon.com is one example of the affects the higher taxes have had and will have. Since Malloy’s term just began one cannot really compare him to Rell or Rowland. But, one can predict. Also, I suppose the term “small” is subjective, but many small to medium business will be negatively affected by the paid sick leave bill.
But, we shouldn’t forget the spending, which was outlined somewhat by other commenters.
Once again, don’t mistake my dislike of Dems as a liking of Republicans. Both parties are bad. But, this article seems to tout Looney and the Dems success, when in reality they will hurt us more than they help us.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on June 16, 2011  5:16pm

posted by: streever on June 16, 2011 4:00pm

1. Sick days bill exempts employers with less than 50 employees (how many small businesses fit that bill?)

We don’t know what the cost of this will be down the road for businesses.

The increase in taxes is largely an increase in taxes on wealthy residents, who, by demographics, work in New York state and live near the border. The tax burden they’d have in New York is I believe 3 times the tax burden they have in CT. What are they going to do? Move to Jersey? Jersey has higher taxes on the wealthy than CT also.

It cost more money to live in ct.Then in the city of New York.Case and point you have people
who own Brownstone houses that are worth over a million dollars,Yet the pay only $3639 per year in taxes.my friend lives on alden ave in westville and he is paying 17,000 a year in taxes.

http://www.brooklynproperty.com/property/39_Clinton Hill_3_Family_995000.000_BL20484_11238_72_Downing_St_Brooklyn.aspx

Also New York has Rent control and rent stabilization programs and ct.doesn’t.


Ct. has property tax on cars.New York doesn’t.Ct tax your pension and New york does not.And we already know New Haven has a higher crime rate then New York.

Can you demonstrate that our state is doing worse under Dan Malloy than it did under Rell or Roland? I don’t think there is any data supporting that assertion, but a lot of rhetoric and a lot of slams on the Democrats which are really inaccurate and disingenuous

Time well show that Dan Malloy will be the same as Rell and Roland.Both parties are the same.In fact across this country people say the same thing.

Republican, Democratic Party Favorability Identical at 44%Majorities view both parties unfavorably


P.S I forgot New York is geting ready to do this.And this is a Democrat.

City Councilman wants to slap speedy bike messengers, food delivery cyclists with license plates
Thursday, May 26, 2011


posted by: THREEFIFTHS on June 16, 2011  5:18pm

I forgot Streever.New York has TERM Limits!!! CT. Doesn’t.

posted by: Tom Harned on June 16, 2011  6:04pm

Great work Sen. Looney!

The state has suffered for the better part of two decades at the hands of republican governors and their middle-class-crushing economic policies. It’s nice to see the government of this state finally fighting for the middle class instead of Greenwich hedge-managers.

After reading the comments on this article, you’d think the commenters were asleep through eight years of failed Republican economic policy under George W. Bush. Tax giveaways to the extremely wealthy and cutting services to the bone are not the way you build and economy. Again, see George W. Bush.

Now that we have a governor who actually has the courage to lead, the legislature is able to start tackling some of the problems that Roland and Rell were happy to ignore.

Compromise and shared sacrifice, which governor Malloy and Sen. Looney have achieved this session, may not be glamorous and it might even be difficult for a while, but it’s the only way we’re going to get out this hole and turn this state around. Sure it would be nice to have a Republican governor or legislature tell us that they’re going to cut taxes and all our problems are going to melt away. Only that’s not true and it never will be.

Real leadership means making tough decisions and doing the right thing even when it’s not the popular thing. Senator Looney and Governor Malloy have both done that this year.

posted by: Bill on June 17, 2011  7:52am

“The 20 years of Republican policies sure have gotten us somewhere! “

...the democrats have controlled the state legislature for the past 20 years.

posted by: IAMJH on June 17, 2011  9:50am

Senator Looney is a good man and a good legislator.  But he and Senate President Williams let down workers of CT by not allowing the “Captive Audience” bill come to a vote.  It would have made attendance at employer anti-union meetings voluntary rather than mandatory as they are now.  Allowing workers to be browbeaten, intimidated and demeaned—or face termination—is a disgrace Looney & Williams could have ended.  The fairness of the bill was unquestionable—but the business community didn’t want to lose a potent weapon in stopping organizing campaigns. 
This year, Senator Looney had the chance to become a great state senator, with national impact.  He chose not to.

posted by: Noteworthy on June 17, 2011  11:26am

Marty’s victory lap gets headlines now. I’d like to see the headlines once all the dancing stops. There is a reason why our large cities are deep trouble and our state finances are a mess and continue to be. When all the celebrating stops and these policies take root, the 20 year track record of economic stagnation in this state will just continue.

The budget is not balanced. To the extent that it is closer to balance is because of nearly $3 billion in new revenue from our families and businesses. And no, it is not largely coming from the wealthy unless you manage to dumb down the benchmark of who you consider wealthy to those families earning $75K. It’s mostly the middle class who will be paying not only higher income taxes, but also through all the increased commodity and service taxes and increases we will now pay as well.

Looney’s refusal to cut state spending and his endorsement of actually spending a billion more including launching a new welfare program that insures people live here for free and contribute nothing to the cost of government and services; and borrowing yet another $2 billion is as remarkable as it is stupid. We have a debt problem and Looney has now made it worse. Will it provide some short term work for the construction trades with the Magic Bus and chronically deficit prone UCONN Health Center? Sure. Will it provide jobs for Connecticut families for anybody not in the trades? Few if any. Will it provide long term employment for existing Connecticut families or will it provide $500K a year salaries for people like the VP of the Health Center who is now going into reserch at UCONN. His sslary will be $566K per year.

As for some of these other bills - great. People who want to walk around stoned get a ticket. Big deal.

The taxes on our families, some barely hanging on to their homes while dealing with 40% cuts in wages just to stay employed is the worst. Happily raising our income taxes and celebrating the fact that starting in August, an entire year’s worth of deductions will shrink paychecks big time in order to squeeze it all in by December shows a callous disregard for the impact and the state of most family budgets.

Increasing business taxes and fees may balance the budget but when combined with mandatory sick days - is a bridge too far. What business will hire more people knowing that expenses they don’t control are rising so dramatically? NONE.

Looney and his twin sisters - the Toni(s), are really taking a bow for hosing the taxpaying public while pretending this fundamentally changes the state finances, that there is “shared pain” for the greater good. It is as much a myth as the $200 million in savings from the Magic Employee Suggestion Box or that the Magic Bus will eliminate cars on I-91.

More importantly though, under this misguided plan they’re celebrating, the opportunity for full employment of our family members and neighbors is as far away as ever and probably has gotten a lot more remote. I hope Looney et al enjoy their victory lap.

posted by: The Truth on June 21, 2011  2:49pm

Comrade Looney Toon is sending Connecticut into the communist block. God help this state.