Daniel Zhao, Senior Photographer

A proposal that could generate an additional $49 million in state aid to New Haven is headed to Gov. Ned Lamont’s desk — and if he signs the bill, it will enter a monthslong budget process set to conclude on Apr. 22.

SB 873, which would create a tiered system for the state’s Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILOT, program, passed the House last week and earned the state Senate’s stamp of approval on Monday. New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker held a press conference the following day to celebrate the bill’s progress and underscore its importance for the Elm City.

The conference included mayors and first selectmen from around the New Haven area to help explain  the significance of the proposal. Elicker also provided Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney of New Haven a chance to speak, as Looney sponsored the bill and championed the proposal in the state Senate. While the bill is intended to provide increased funding for Connecticut towns, this money is not yet guaranteed — in the coming weeks, it must survive budgetary deliberations on the state level. Elicker, for his part, approached the conference with an air of enthusiasm and continued optimism.

“At this time of significant conversation surrounding inequities, the state capitol has taken a historic step and a very courageous step in ensuring that the funding for the state is based on need,” Elicker said.

Looney’s proposal would significantly increase the funding the PILOT program receives from the state. This money would go towards reimbursing municipalities for the revenue they lose from nontaxable property — such as hospitals, religious institutions and universities. Over 50 percent of the property in New Haven is nontaxable, due in part to Yale and Yale New Haven Hospital’s property. Under the PILOT program, the state is obligated to reimburse municipalities 77 percent of lost tax revenue from non-taxable properties. Due to a lack of funding for the program, however, New Haven is currently only reimbursed for 26 percent of the lost property taxes. Looney’s proposal looks to increase this to 50 percent of the intended 77, which could funnel an additional $49 million into New Haven’s pocket. 

Elicker made sure to note that this $49 million is not a guarantee for the city, even though the bill passed through both chambers of the legislature.

“We hope [the state legislatures] do not, but it is very possible they could reduce the amount of funding that is needed,” Elicker said. “The question for us is: Will the legislature follow through?”

In an interview with the News, Looney said that after Lamont signs the proposal into law — which he is expected to do — the proposal will enter into a monthslong budgetary process. While Looney said he does not expect any significant cuts to the proposed funding, he said that the proposal is now in the hands of the state Appropriations Committee, which has until April 22 to work out the fine print of the state’s budget for the next year. 

But, Looney said, even if the Appropriations Committee fully supports the proposal, it still would have to go to the governor’s office for consensus and review. In addition, the proposal would have to pass a vote in the Connecticut General Assembly before session adjourns on June 9. But again, Looney expressed optimism that these steps would still leave PILOT funding at expected levels — especially considering Lamont himself has set aside roughly $100 million for municipal aid in the budget he proposed in February. Looney said talks with the governor have indicated he would be open to using that money for the PILOT proposal. 

“The governor has been very strong in his statements to me about the equity aspects of this proposal,” Looney told the News. “He sees it as not justified at all that wealthy towns that have very little in tax exempt property are getting the same reimbursement as towns with much more [tax-exempt property], like New Haven.”

Looney also noted that funding concerns could soon become less relevant if Connecticut receives a large influx of federal funding from a new COVID-19 stimulus bill currently pending in the United States Senate.

Overall, he said, the signs point to substantial increases in funding to Connecticut municipalities in the near future.

“The issue of fully funding the proposal may not turn out to be substantial at all,” Looney said. “We could see a very significant infusion of new federal money if the stimulus bill passes.”

 In his continued effort to broaden the net of support for PILOT, Elicker also invited several other leaders of Connecticut municipalities to Tuesday’s conference. The many mayors and first selectmen present at the conference reflect an earlier effort from Elicker in which he sent a letter to Lamont in favor of the PILOT proposal in February. The letter contained signatures from 27 Connecticut municipal leaders outside of New Haven. Torrington Mayor Elinor Carbone spoke briefly at the conference and explained the importance of small cities being able to rally behind this New Haven-led effort.

“Torrington is one of the smaller cities in the state,” Carbone said. “However, it is still difficult for us to recover from the loss of revenue from tax exempt properties. We also know that the PILOT program does provide us with the desperately needed aid that counterbalances that lost revenue, and I am so grateful for the bipartisan support of this bill.”

Republican First Selectman of North Haven Michael Freda echoed Carbone in emphasizing the bipartisanship of the proposal, and said the increased funding his town would get from the proposal would be pivotal in ensuring workers like firefighters and teachers can stay afloat as the pandemic continues. 

Elicker closed  his Tuesday remarks by singling out Looney’s commitment to the proposal, saying that Looney’s leadership would be imperative in the ongoing efforts to finalize these essential funds.

“[Looney] has a very lengthy history of supporting people who don’t have a voice,” Elicker said. “This is one very significant step you’ve helped us all take to make sure we have the resources to help our struggling communities.”

The full text of the bill can be found here.

Thomas Birmingham | thomas.birmingham@yale.edu