Harp outlines legislative agenda

In his State of the State address Thursday, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy will unveil an agenda that squares with New Haven’s legislative priorities, Mayor Toni Harp said Wednesday.

Specifically, Harp said, the city will be the beneficiary of a proposed uptick in Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) funding, which reimburses Connecticut municipalities for tax-exempt properties. Malloy will propose an $8 million statewide increase in reimbursements for lost property taxes from colleges and hospitals, according to State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney.

“The governor is opening the discussion on PILOT by proposing an $8 million increase for the college and hospital fund,” Looney said. “There’s also payments in lieu of state property taxes. I expect we’ll have a discussion about both programs during the session to come.”

David Bednarz, a spokesman for the governor’s office, declined to comment in advance of Thursday’s remarks on the governor’s position on PILOT.

If such a proposal wins approval in the General Assembly, it will increase college and hospital PILOT reimbursements from $115.4 million to $123.4 million. An $8 million statewide increase would mean between $2 and $2.5 million more for New Haven.

Currently, the state is slated to reimburse New Haven alone roughly $43.6 million in 2014. The payment is less than half the roughly $105.3 million that would constitute full funding under the statutory levels: 77 percent of taxes from exempt colleges and hospitals and 45 percent from exempt state properties.

Overall, the governor’s proposals are kinder to New Haven than has been the case in the past, Harp said.

“From what I know of it, it’s a pretty good budget,” she said. A $2 million increase in PILOT payments to New Haven goes nearly halfway toward meeting Harp’s stated request of $5 million more.

In advance of Malloy’s address, Harp circulated to members of New Haven’s delegation to the Connecticut General Assembly a legislative agenda of her own — a 28-page document detailing the city’s requests from the state, the $5 million increase in PILOT funding among them.

Ward 19 Alder Mike Stratton slammed that request as meager, saying Harp should have asked for New Haven’s due — more along the lines of $50 million.

“[Asking for $50 million] reaffirms that we’re entitled to that money and, two, it creates a much better negotiating position,” Stratton said. Either way, he added, a one-year increase in reimbursements does little to shift the culture surrounding PILOT obligations.

New Haven’s Board of Alders made its position clear on Monday when it unanimously endorsed a resolution, co-authored by Stratton, calling for full PILOT funding.

Stratton said the city’s stance is important in galvanizing a lobbying effort to convince both Malloy and the General Assembly to clarify the statute and create a more predictable funding stream for New Haven, where roughly 45 percent of properties are nontaxable. This year, Yale University will pay $8 million in voluntary contributions to the city in recognition of tax exemptions for academic property, according to Lauren Zucker, Yale’s assistant director for New Haven and state affairs.

State Rep. Roland Lemar, who represents portions of New Haven and East Haven, said state spending is capped at roughly $21 billion per year. To fully fund PILOT, he added, the state would have to “blow through that cap.”

Looney said Harp’s overall agenda makes reasonable demands on the state.

The city is confident in many of the items’ chances of passage, Harp said. Her legislative director, Rebecca Bombero, said the administration has located at least one state legislator to introduce each fiscal bill it is seeking. For the bills that a committee must raise, Bombero said, the city expects it will convince the relevant committees to move on the items.

The state is currently in the middle of a two-year budget cycle. During even-numbered calendar years — including election years, such as this one — the legislative session is shortened and deals mainly with modifications to the current budget. Bombero said the city senses “a good level of support coming from the governor’s office.”

An entire section of Harp’s legislative agenda is devoted to public safety improvements surrounding the city’s entertainment district, the site of a spate of nightclub violence dating back to last year.

“Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night as bars close thousands of intoxicated individuals pour into a three block section of our city leading to frequent displays of violence that have often escalated to shootings, and in some instances fatalities,” Harp wrote in the agenda packet.

Harp is proposing the creation of a state licensing program to regulate nightclub promoters. She is also seeking background checks and required training for security at city clubs. Greater police oversight of renewals of liquor licenses would reduce the risk of violence and illegal behavior at high-risk establishments, she said.

New Haven Police Department spokesman David Hartman said the proposed items would lead to changes that the department has long been seeking. The police have advised various crackdowns, Hartman said, but the state legislature ultimately has final say.

If Harp has her way, the state will foot the bill for the rehabilitation of the Dixwell Q House, a community center that has been closed since 2003. City lawmakers have focused in recent years on the shuttered community center as an example of the lack of spaces for youth to gather in the city.

A feasibility study conducted in 2013 found that rehabilitating the existing Q house would cost between $5 and $6 million. Leveling the building and combining it with the Stetson Branch Library facility would cost roughly $13.4 million. Looney said funding for the Q House would come from state bonds rather than direct appropriations. Harp’s plans for redevelopment work along the Route 34 Exit by the site of the former Coliseum, slated to undergo a major mixed-use development venture, would also be funded by state bonds, Looney said.

Ward 22 Alder Jeanette Morrison, whose ward includes the Q House, said she is thrilled by the request for state funding. She said extensive work in the community and support from residents ensured that the issue was on the mayor’s radar.

Harp is also asking the state for $5 million after-school and summer programming and sustained funding for youth violence prevention and youth employment programs.

In addition to state funding for redevelopment on the site of the former Coliseum, Harp is seeking the creation of a development authority to oversee plans for a refurbished Union Station. The financing of a second garage at the train station — one of Harp’s specific campaign promises — will be a principal focus of the authority.

Harp is also requesting annual state support of $2 million for Tweed Airport, which she said she hopes to turn into a more nationally oriented airport by adding flights to Florida, Chicago and Washington.

Harp further wants to tax vacant land, improve the chances of minority contractors and solidify the influence of New Haven Works by requiring certain employers that locate within the city to hire city residents.

Connecticut’s legislative session begins Thursday following the governor’s remarks. The events are delayed from Wednesday due to the snowstorm.

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