With the first Democratic governor in over two decades at the helm in Hartford, the city and its delegation in the state legislature are seizing the opportunity to obtain state approval for projects on its “wish list.”
Among the items New Haven is requesting of the Connecticut capital are a taxable entertainment district, a stormwater authority to bill property owners for their runoff and cameras to photograph drivers speeding through red lights. While the budget proposals Gov. Dannel Malloy outlined last Wednesday helped New Haven with its fiscal challenges, the city is still fighting to be released from its state-imposed reliance on the property tax in raising revenue.
NEW HAVEN’S WISH LIST
Among the city’s top priorities is securing state authority to create an entertainment district downtown to pay for police overtime costs. Under the city’s proposed plan, which requires state approval, about 40 bars and nightclubs would contribute a total of $300,000 annually to pay for the police’s bar detail. Police Lt. Rebecca Sweeney, the downtown district manager, testified last week in support of the entertainment district before the state legislature’s Planning and Development Committee. Currently, individual establishments hire police officers for security, which reduces the flexibility of the police department to deploy officers where they are most needed, said Robert Smuts ’01, the city’s chief administrative officer.
Other requests include state approval to install cameras in traffic lights that would automatically bill drivers who speed through red lights. While the city says the cameras are necessary for public safety, the revenue it would generate is a significant motivation. The proposal has stalled for nearly eight years, Joseph said, in part because of a debate about whether cities or the state would receive the revenue from the fees.
Ward 29 Alderman and Board of Aldermen President Carl Goldfield said other sources of opposition to the cameras included First Amendment privacy concerns. Goldfield said he only decided to support the cameras when he was convinced that they would only photograph the license plate of the offending driver, not the actual driver.
The city is also pushing for a law proposed by State Sen. Martin Looney, who represents New Haven, which would create a state gun offender registry. Under Looney’s proposal, the state’s public safety commissioner would maintain a registry of people convicted of gun-related crimes and make data on gun offenders available to law enforcement. Registrants would be required to check in with local police once a year, and failure to register would be a criminal offense.
A gun offender registry, which would not be available to the public, would help Connecticut law enforcement target people who are more likely to commit gun crimes, Looney said in his testimony to the Public Safety Committee to the state legislature.
“I think this is a no-brainer,” Goldfield said of the proposed registry. “I support anything that will keep guns out of the hands of offenders and get the gun situation under control.”
Among the other measures the city is pushing for in Hartford’s current legislative session are a state version of the DREAM Act to make undocumented students eligible for in-state tuition to state schools, the ability to establish a Stormwater Authority to bill property owners for stormwater runoff and lifting the state ban on municipalities negotiating with their labor unions over where their members reside.
AN ALLY IN THE GOVERNOR’S MANSION
New Haven and the state’s other large, cash-strapped cities appear to have an ally in Gov. Dannel Malloy’s budget proposals, which already included some of the city’s priorities.
Currently, municipalities can only collect revenue through property taxes, something New Haven is trying to change after it raised property taxes in three of the last four fiscal years. Malloy, who said in his budget address last Wednesday that he understands the need for cities to diversify their revenue stream, offered several tax proposals which would do just that.
Specifically, Malloy proposed local option taxes, which would allow municipalities to keep a percentage of state sales taxes on certain goods. He also proposed taxes on hotel and car rental fees, which would be kept by the municipalities in which the fees are paid.
In addition to the tax proposals, Malloy saved the city about $11 million by holding state funding levels constant for education and the Payment In Lieu Of Taxes program (PILOT), which compensates cities and towns for nontaxable property.
Goldfield said the fact that Malloy was mayor of Stamford for 14 years is evident in his budget. Refusing to cut funds for education and the PILOT program was alone more important for New Haven than any of the city’s other legislative priorities, Goldfield said.
“It’s great to have a partner in the governor’s mansion who is a former mayor himself,” said State Rep. Roland Lemar, a former Ward 9 Alderman in New Haven.
KEEPING UP THE PRESSURE
Despite having to play the role of legislative liaison while also managing the mayor’s communications with the press and public, Joseph said the city’s lobbying efforts are moving full steam ahead.
The city is currently employing DePino Associates, a lobbying firm, for its efforts in Hartford, Joseph said. The firm is led by former state representative and state Republican Party Chairman Chris DePino.
Coinciding with the governor’s budget address, Joseph helped organize an event in Hartford called “New Haven Day,” which brought several aldermen, city officials and residents to the capitol to speak with state legislators about the city’s requests for Hartford. The event was a success, Joseph said, in part owing to the strategic baiting of legislators with Pepe’s pizza brought fresh from the Elm City.
“Citizens came armed with talking points and our second greatest resource behind our children — our pizza,” Joseph said.
DeStefano and his chief of staff, Sean Matteson, are actively searching for someone to fill the full-time legislative liaison position, Joseph said. It is not clear when a replacement will be announced, he added.
For now, Joseph, is doubling as the city’s communications director, a position left vacant by Jessica Mayorga on Feb. 4.
Goldfield said the impact of not having a full-time legislative liaison in Hartford is unclear, but that he hopes the city finds a replacement “as soon as possible.”
Joseph assumed his director of communications post Feb. 7, one month and two days after the state legislature convened for its legislative session in Hartford.