As New Haven threw its political might behind Ned Lamont, Democratic candidates for governor pledged to up “PILOT” money for cities.
Those pledges came Wednesday from Lamont, Dannel Malloy, and Juan Figueroa, who are battling for the Democratic nomination for governor.
The promises came in just slightly different forms—the latest example of how the race is coming down to nuance, rather than broad disagreement, on issues affecting Connecticut’s cities.
Lamont left himself room to tackle an inherited budget deficit. Figueroa offered specific ways to tax the rich to pay for the pledge. Malloy offered a vaguer vow to undertake general “progressive” tax reform.
Lamont made his pledge in a shaded cork-floored stretch of courtyard at John C. Daniels School in New Haven’s Hill neighborhood. He was there to receive a major endorsement from Mayor John DeStefano and Democratic Town Chairwoman Susie Voigt. (Lamont is pictured above bookended by running mate Mary Glassman and DeStefano.) New Haven has the state’s largest Democratic population and largest bloc (81) of convention delegates. DeStefano vowed to work hard to deliver that support to Lamont. Malloy has been cleaning up elsewhere in the state on party endorsements, including 49 Democratic Town Committee chairs and more than 100 elected officials. (Figueroa is skipping the convention endorsement process to focus instead just on preparing for a primary.)
DeStefano was asked at Wednesday’s event how he sees Lamont differing from other Democratic candidates.
The endorsement choice didn’t come down to who has “a catalog or a list of good ideas,” responded the mayor (who ran for governor in 2006, defeating Dan Malloy in a party primary). “Leadership is about bringing people together. That’s what Ned particularly offers.”
Lamont’s campaign has made the case to potential supporters that he has a better chance than Malloy of beating a Republican in November because he’s wealthy. He’s self-financing his campaign, whereas Malloy is taking public financing.
Malloy, meanwhile, argues that he’s a better choice for cities because, unlike Lamont, he has run a city—Stamford, for 14 years, during which time crime fell, employment rose, and new housing got built. Figueroa stresses that he’s lived in Connecticut cities for 15 years, represented Hartford in the state legislature, and taken the lead on issues important to cities such as health care reform as head of the Universal Health Care Foundation.
Indeed, when the three candidates were asked to outline their urban agenda Wednesday, they shared similar views. The candidates differed on some of the nuances, including on the details of two state issues hitting New Haven particularly hard this week—PILOT and nursing home services.
The city has been anticipating a hole in its budget because of a new state budget that cuts Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) to cities and town for lost revenue on tax-exempt property. It learned the sized of that hole this week—$3.5 million.
Mayor DeStefano said the city learned this week that its PILOT money would drop $3.5 million this year, a result not only of the state’s budget crisis, but also of growth in the amount of tax-exempt property statewide (meaning there’s less money altogether to divide up).
According to city Budget Director Larry Rusconi, 47 percent of New Haven’s property is tax-exempt. Much of it belongs to universities, hospitals, and churches. Another 6 percent of property is nontaxable because of exemptions for groups like seniors and veterans.
Under the original PILOT law the state promised to reimburse cities for 77 percent of the value of college and hospital property; that number has dropped to around 45 percent. New Haven’s supposed to receive 55 percent reimbursement for taxes lost on state-owned property; that number’s down in the 30s.
Both Malloy and Figueroa promised in interviews Wednesday that they’d restore the full PILOT money. Malloy said some of the money to pay for that could come from more “progressive taxation”; he said he didn’t want to play to the “gotcha” campaign game of offering specific proposed new tax rates or income cut-offs. Figueroa said he’d pay for PILOT by increasing taxes on the wealthy, on utilities’ excess profits, Wall Street bonuses, and estates.
New Haven firefighters union President Pat Egan confronted Lamont about PILOT after the endorsement press conference. Click on the play arrow above to watch.
“The city’s been screwed out of” more than $50 million over four years by Democratic-led legislatures, Egan said. If elected, would Lamont “keep the promises to cities” to fund PILOT fully?
“The answer to your question is yes—yes, comma, we also have a $4 billion budget deficit,” Lamont responded.
Lamont added that increasing aid to cities is part of his larger “urban agenda,” which focuses on creating jobs at local small and medium-sized tech (biotech, green tech, life sciences) companies and manufacturers, rather than using state money to try to lure large corporations from out of state. He spoke of tripling the size of the quasi-public Connecticut Innovations Inc. to provide seed money to start-ups, of accelerating permitting for new companies, and of backing New Haven-style school reform to provide skilled workers for growing employers.
He was asked afterward if his response to Egan meant he was promising to restore full PILOT funding.
“I’ll do my best to get up to full funding,” Lamont responded. “Whether I can do that in year one when I inherit one more round of budget deficits, we’ll see. We’ll do everything we can. It’s unfair to leave the burden on the cities” just because they have a disproportionate amount of not-for-profit institutions.
The candidates were also asked how, as governor, they might deal with the disappearance of nursing home beds in cities. Another 79 beds are disappearing from New Haven, where the state is in the process of shutting down the West Rock Nursing Home after regulators prepared a 37-page report of violations at the bankrupt facility. Surprise inspections found medical records in cardboard boxes sitting in pooled water. One patient was wearing dirty clothes and sleeping in soiled sheets. A staffer used a “fecal smeared washcloth” to wash a patient’s open ulcer. (Read about that here.)
The three candidates agreed the state should have done more in advance to prevent the home from deteriorating so badly, and should do more to take care of the elderly and infirm.
Lamont and Figueroa promised to increase money for home health care—in order to spend less money while enabling seniors to live more comfortably. Lamont said he’d seek a Medicaid waiver from the federal government to allow the state to used nursing home money to pay for more in-home nursing. That would cost less money and some people would prefer staying in their own homes, he pointed out.
Malloy, echoing a theme championed by unionized health-care workers (crucial vote-pullers in Democratic primaries), blamed declining state reimbursements for nursing-home care. He promised to keep reimbursement rates rising along with the rate of inflation.
Malloy charged that the Rell administration has been “at war with nursing homes ... We’re starving them. That’s why a large percentage of the industry is in bankruptcy.”