March 17th, 2014 | City

PILOT legislation debated

A public hearing on Monday will gauge the favorability of a piece of legislation that would change how Connecticut towns and cities are reimbursed from the state through Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT).

The bill, proposed by State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, would combine the sum cities receive for tax-exempt colleges and hospitals and the sum for nontaxable state properties. They currently represent two separate formulas.

The bill would also provide proportionally greater aid to cities with higher percentages of nontaxable properties. The 20 municipalities with the greatest concentration of nontaxable land would get back 50 percent of the lost taxes. The next 20 municipalities would get 45 percent back, and the remaining towns would receive 40 percent.

Looney told the New Haven Register that those rates would also be guaranteed under his legislation, whereas they now depend on the good will of the General Assembly. The new formula would be phased in over five years starting in 2016.

The New Haven People’s Caucus, a breakaway group on the Board of Alders that has lobbied for full PILOT funding, released a statement in advance of Monday’s hearing applauding Looney’s proposal but saying it did not go far enough.

“The bill before you is a decent start but as drafted it leaves New Haven taxpayers still paying for non-resident benefits,” reads the statement, drafted by the Caucus’ six members, who argue that the top-tier 20 municipalities should receive “at least 70 percent” in reimbursements.

The statement estimates that the state owes New Haven $400 million in unpaid PILOT funds over the last 10 years. The Caucus claims that this discrepancy has resulted in a depreciation of property value, an increase in pension debt, rising taxes and an inability to fund basic services. Ward 19 Alder Michael Stratton has hired a lobbyist to make the Caucus’ case on PILOT.

Another proposal on the horizon in Hartford would completely reverse the principle on which PILOT operates. Connecticut House Speaker Brendan Sharkey has proposed a “Reverse PILOT” that would force colleges and hospitals to pay property taxes and then lobby the state for grants. Mayor Toni Harp and others have pointed to legal problems with the proposed change. Yale University’s tax exemption, for example, is written into the state’s Constitution.