When it comes to Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILOT, Connecticut legislators can now take their pick.
Three distinct proposals have emerged out of municipal discontent with diminishing state compensation for nontaxable property. The proposed changes come amid mounting debate over the state’s tax system, which makes property taxes the chief source of revenue for Connecticut municipalities.
The most recent proposed change, introduced by State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney of New Haven, represents a more limited overhaul than the one envisioned by House Speaker Brendan Sharkey of Hamden. Sharkey’s plan would eliminate statutory tax exemptions and force colleges and hospitals, rather than towns and cities, to lobby the state for grants. The most modest proposal is Gov. Dannel Malloy’s — to increase total PILOT funding by $8 million, which would be shared among the more than 150 Connecticut towns and cities currently receiving reimbursements.
Looney’s bill, referred to the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, 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: 77 cents on the dollar for colleges and hospitals and 45 cents on the dollar for state property. In recent years, the state has fallen drastically short of meeting those levels.
The bill would also give proportionally greater aid to cities with more 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.
“The bill that I introduced takes account of the fact that many of the communities that rely on PILOT are not equal: Some only have a small number of properties off the tax rolls and others have an immense number,” Looney said. He has represented New Haven, where roughly 47 percent of property is nontaxable, for two decades.
Looney’s legislation would make the altered reimbursement rates statutory. Currently, they depend on the “good will” of the legislature, Looney said. The new formula would be phased in over five years starting in 2016, he added.
A handful of New Haven lawmakers keen on capturing more PILOT funds for the city said they support Looney’s legislation, though they say it does not go far enough. Michael Stratton, an alder for Newhallville and Prospect Hill who has been one of the city’s strongest voices for more robust PILOT payments, traveled to Hartford last week with East Rock Alder Anna Festa and a cadre of other residents to testify in support of the bill at a public hearing.
Stratton said he is in favor of a “hybrid” between Looney’s tiered system of reimbursements and Sharkey’s plan to reverse PILOT. Under his envisioned combination of the two changes, municipalities would be compensated at Looney’s proposed levels for nonprofits still immune to taxes, Stratton said. That would likely include Yale University, whose tax-exempt status is protected by the state constitution.
Yale-New Haven Hospital, on the other hand, whose exemption is more recent than the University’s, would owe the city roughly $31 million in property taxes should PILOT reversal become law — a figure based on property value determined by the city’s Department of Assessment.
Dana Marnane, director of public relations and communications for Yale-New Haven Hospital, said the hospital is opposed to Sharkey’s bill, and favors Malloy’s $8-million boost to overall PILOT instead. She did not return request for further comment.
From Yale’s perspective, PILOT has been effective and should not be reversed, Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, Yale’s deputy chief communications officer, told the News last month.
Ron Thomas, director of public policy and advocacy for the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said his organization supports both bills, which he said recognize that many Connecticut cities are in “dire shape.” In response to colleges’ and universities’ opposition to the bill, Thomas called Sharkey’s PILOT reversal “very fair.”
Sharkey’s bill has been referred to the Planning and Development Committee, which held a public hearing on the proposed change on Friday morning. Speaking two days earlier at a legislative leadership breakfast, Sharkey said his bill includes a provision that would allow nonprofits to negotiate an appropriate tax rate with their host communities.
“The idea of the ‘Reverse PILOT’ is that … towns, in theory, would be able to collect 100 percent of the taxes that would otherwise be owed by those institutions,” Sharkey said.
Committees will decide on the various PILOT plans over the next two weeks. If approved, they will go to the full assembly for a vote.
Representative Pat Widlitz, the House chair of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, said Looney’s bill is still a “work in progress.” A Democrat representing the towns of Branford and Guilford, she said it will be hard to gauge the bill’s effects until its fiscal impact becomes clear.
“It will certainly have a budgetary impact. That’s the first problem,” Widlitz said. “A major addition like this is very difficult in the second year of the budget.”
State Rep. Toni Boucher, a Republican member of the committee and a gubernatorial candidate, said she is worried not just about the bill’s budget impact but about the way in which the tiered system might “advantage certain communities over others.” She added that she is “totally opposed” to Sharkey’s “Reverse PILOT” — a bill that will likely encounter stiff opposition, according to both Boucher and Republican colleague State Sen. Len Fasano ’81.
Connecticut levies income and sales taxes in addition to the property taxes collected by municipalities.