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Norwalk’s legislators talk ‘county government,’ state fiscal woes

From left, State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) and State Reps. Chris Perone (D-137), Bruce Morris (D-140) and Fred Wilms (R-142) engage the public during the annual League of Women Voters’ Pie and Politics forum, Saturday in Norwalk Police headquarters.

A graph created by the Connecticut Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk’s state legislators spoke to voters recently, touching on state economic challenges, regionalization, a recent controversial vote for a state Supreme Court justice, tolls and a possible trade war with China.

The annual League of Women Voters Pie & Politics event began with State Rep. Fred Wilms (R-142) using a chart to show that the state’s economy is the only one in the country to have shrunk.

“We are down 7.9 percent from 10 years ago. Everyone else, literally everyone else, has grown. That’s a real tragedy because you know we live in a beautiful, beautiful state. We have such a great quality of life… we seem to have taken a wrong turn,” Wilms said.

Video by Harold Cobin at end of story. 

“We are the only state in the country that has not fully regained the jobs lost in 2008,” State Rep. Terri Wood (R-141) said, suggesting that audience members look up the report issued by the Connecticut Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth.

“That report had good things in it but some really horrible things in it,” State Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140) said, citing contradictory comments on minimum wage.

Duff focused on state waste, targeting municipal spending.

The state government has shrunk 15 percent but municipal governments have not, and “That’s actually what’s choking the state, 169 small communities with little incentive to work together,” Duff said.

Just look in Norwalk City Hall, he said, pointing out that there’s a human resources department on the third floor, where the Board of Education offices are, and the first floor, for the city-side.

“That’s not just in our town, that’s all over the place,” Duff said.

Wilms and Wood  went on to blast last year’s SEBAC (State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition) contract as a reason for Connecticut’s woes, with Wood commenting that every Republican gubernatorial candidate out there says they will reopen it.

The SEBAC agreement came up after Diane Lauricella asked if the Green Bank could be reinstated, asserting that jobs will leave Connecticut because there aren’t enough funds for energy-related rebates.

Wilms said he supports the Green Bank but the budget is very difficult, with a $2 billion deficit forecasted.

SEBAC needs to be renegotiated because, “We need to rebalance how much we spend on services,” Wilms said.

“Here in Norwalk, we don’t agree to 10-year contracts with anybody, at any time for any reason,” Wilms said. “It’s three years because we are smart enough to know you don’t lock things in. … It’s stupid, but that’s what the state did. Meanwhile, we have locked ourselves in and we are in a huge fiscal crisis. When you are in a crisis, what you need to be doing is making things more flexible, creating more options, so you can react. We can’t react, which is stupid.”

Duff said SEBAC saves $1.5 billion in its first two years and, “You can have layoffs for any employee hired after July 1.”

 

“As far as SEBAC goes… We locked ourselves into decisions that across the board need to be looked at,” State Rep. Chris Perone (D-137) said. “I think that when you have a new governor, when you have a new legislature, it’s tough to say what’s going to happen…. Whoever sits there is going to have an obligation to go through our finances and put concepts on the table that are going to try to …  make us more competitive, make us stronger fiscally going forward.”

Municipal services should be coordinated and paid for regionally for economic efficiencies, Morris said.

“We can’t keep saying, ‘We’re going to do this on the back of state employees. Quite frankly, we have so many fewer state employees than we ever had,” Morris said. ‘… State government can’t always be the answer. It’s really about sustainability.”

State employees make much more money than they would in the private sector, Wilms said, with Duff replying that information came from the “right leaning” Yankee Institute, and, “Let’s stop beating up on people we don’t know, as a group of folks.”

“An assistant attorney general is not making any more money than an attorney in the private sector,” and a Department of Children and Families employee who goes out at 10 p.m. to assist families in an emergency is not making more money than a private sector employee, Duff said.

Of course, some state employees don’t do a good job but, “We have to stop using all these excuses,” Duff said, pointing out again that Connecticut’s 169 towns don’t share services.

Democratic Town Committee Chairman Ed Camacho, sitting in the audience, said, “We are the only state that does not have county government, as far as I know.”

That was in connection to Connecticut’s poor fiscal performance, the only state not to show growth in the past decade.

“We really do need to have this discussion in the statehouses,” Camacho said. “We need to restore county government, we need to restore efficiency in the way we do business in this state because if we do not do that we will continue to be low man on the totem pole.”

Morris said that The Moore Commission studied regional efficiencies but, “The political will to get there still isn’t happening.”

“I don’t support forced regionalization,” Wilms said.

“We moved away from county government…. But I am up for taking a second look at it, see if we can maybe reboot,” Perone said.

“It’s such a big topic, and economists don’t see that as our driving issue, the lack of regionalization,” Wood said, asserting that the state’s human services effort is incredibly inefficient, that providing social help was done much better when it was done locally.

County government is prohibited by the state constitution, Duff said.

Vermont told its municipalities to reduce the number of school districts or see their funding dry up and it worked, and “If that’s not a good place to start I’m not sure what is … We all are subsidizing something someplace out that is grossly inefficient,” Duff said.

“I have been on both sides of the issue,” said Wilms, former Norwalk Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) chairman. “… I can tell you the city is way more efficient than the state.”

Former Mayoral candidate Lisa Brinton Thomson asked if there were other ways for Norwalk to create revenue, such as a local sales tax that would garner money from out of towners patronizing The SoNo Collection.

“I have always favored the state allowing Norwalk to charge a small sales tax,” Wilms said. “This way, we would capture that value because a lot of those folks come to our town to shop. At the end of the day, what we are talking about is really wealth redistributions. We are talking about money coming from the wealthy suburbs and coming here. This is a great way to do it. It’s voluntary. As we know, Darien and New Canaan will never allow a home depot to go through… so we pretty much have a captive audience on that one.”

There was a bill last year that would have allowed municipalities to charge a sales tax, and while it generated discussion it didn’t make its way into the budget, Morris said.

There’s a bill again this year, and more legislators are getting onboard, he said.

Duff brought up the failed nomination of Supreme Court Justice Andrew McDonald to be Chief Justice, and called it a partisan issue, even with some Democrats voting with Republicans to defeat McDonald.

“We always voted on qualifications. We’ve never voted on anything else,” Duff said.

Morris voted against McDonald.

Morris said he’s on the Judiciary Committee and the Committee has always vetted judges, with the governor withdrawing nominations if needed – and it was clear that McDonald did not have the votes.

“The innuendo that is out there has nothing to do with the actual reasons that people voted no,” Morris said, urging audience members to watch the footage of the hearing.

Wilms said he watched eight hours of testimony and voted no.

“I don’t care about political affiliations,” Wilms said, explaining that Chief Justice is about more than a vote on the Supreme Court as “This person is the CEO of the entire state judicial system. All the courts in the state, everything… I want to have someone who has the right temperament and who will follow the law.”

In other topics, Perone and Morris said tolls are needed to be a dedicated revenue stream for the Department of Transportation, with Wilms and Duff commenting that if approved, tolls would not be in-stated for four or five years because federal approvals are needed.

It’s “kind of a myth” that transportation funds have been put in the general fund, Duff said, asserting that the state has spent more money on transportation in the last six or seven years than had been done previously.

The world has changed, Mark Albertson said from the audience, asking legislators to comment on Connecticut’s role in an era of globalization.

Connecticut is important globally because it exports so much stuff, Duff said.

It’s a “real dereliction of duty that legislators have not traveled more internationally and made relationships, Duff said, explaining that he’s been to China and is worried about President Donald Trump starting a trade war.

“We’re going to be collateral damage on that,” he said, citing Pratt & Whitney defense exports and agricultural products and, “If it escalates this could be bad news.”

Wilms said Connecticut has world class industries and the third largest concentration of hedge funds, and he’d like to see biotech expand.

“You folks are not just representing us in Hartford. You’re becoming diplomats,” Albertson said.

Morris said he’s been to Taiwan, and many people come to Connecticut to go to college and the agriculture industry benefits from the demand from Taiwan.

Duff said Connecticut hosted Israeli businesses, and Hartford was their favorite out of the three cities they visited.

“That’s how these relationships are extremely important,” Duff said. “… We have to stop talking badly about our state because that does get around. That does impact how people receive us. So we have a lot of good things going for us and we have to start talking about some of those good things.”

15 comments

M. Murray April 13, 2018 at 7:42 am

Interesting discussion bringing clarity to what’s wrong with CT.. solutions all involved more government and more taxes. Creating a County system is just adding another layer of government. More rules, more regulations and….. County taxes. Regional school districts means people who bought homes based on good school districts and are willing to pay extra for good schools will lose control of their children’s education and see their property values go down as well as their children’s education. Tolls?? Another new tax. But don’t worry, it’s 4 or 5 years away. We should all feel better about that. It’s like saying every commuter in Connecticut will get cancer, but it will take 4 or 5 years to die, so let’s not worry about it.

Bryan Meek April 13, 2018 at 10:25 am

The sad part of this is it is plainly evident that Bob Duff believes his own bullcrap. The state has cut back 15%. That statement is beyond delusional. Cutting back on services to fund pension promises we could not afford is not responsible government, but Bob actually believes it is. Incredible.

Piberman April 13, 2018 at 11:01 am

County government consolidation has been discussed in CT for many decades with little progress. CT residents are more than willing to bear duplicative costs of municipal gov’t n order to achieve their desired population and ethnic mix. But those pointing to our plethora of towns have little to recommend with improving our welfare cities lacking good jobs, schools and housing.

The real focus remains CT’s State government. Where a part time Legisalture lacking the require skills is unable to effectively govern. And supports our highly paid pubic Unions amongst the highest in the nation.
No matter who wins next years elections a good forecast is “no change”. College freshmen learn that economic growth takes place in cities. CT’s cities (save Stamford) are moridbound. And poorly positioned for the modern high tech world. They focus on building apartments. Not creating good jobs.

CT remains an economically failing state with an exiting population amidst the most powerful economic boom in t he post War period. Our public Unions are doing quite nicely at both state and municipal levels.
So we know our future.

Norwalk is a good example of what ails CT. A one Party City studiously devoted to avoiding installing professional City management. Holding dearly to its reputation as a highly transient City where few residents retire or see their children reside as adults. We’re just the “first in first out City”.

Those of us here many decades remember when it was different. Times have just changed. Our most capable citizens avoid pubic service. Who would use our good skills ?

Paul Lanning April 13, 2018 at 12:17 pm

“Lisa Brinton Thomson asked if there were other ways for Norwalk to create revenue, such as a local sales tax that would garner money from out of towners patronizing The SoNo Collection.”…

Great idea. And here’s another:

Norwalk should get added revenue from the unsafe motorists on our streets. Set up police enforcement details, write tickets with a $100 city surcharge attached to all moving violations, watch the money roll in and enjoy a safer environment.

Paul Lanning April 13, 2018 at 12:21 pm

Norwalk can get added revenue from the unsafe motorists on our streets. Set up enforcement details, write tickets with a $100 city surcharge attached to all moving violations, rake in the money and enjoy a safer environment.

Debora Goldstein April 13, 2018 at 3:56 pm

Can we start getting the DOT costs in hand by not funding the plan for a $1.1 BILLION replacement for the Walk Bridge? Asking commuters to pay for this bridge with road tolls is adding insult to injury…

The solution to issues with municipal government is to find ways to encourage professional management of the towns, not to replicate the same management practices with county-level government.

Bill NIghtingale April 13, 2018 at 4:12 pm

“As we know, Darien and New Canaan will never allow a home depot to go through… ” per Wilms above.

Maybe our surrounding towns have figured out the big box retail contributes very little to property taxes while sucking up our quality of life resources. Of course many of us know this is true in Norwalk but they get built here anyway.

SALT-y tears April 13, 2018 at 4:37 pm

How will Duff pay for the new Clown College without highwway tolls? Who’s going to work at the new county government offices if not the Clown College grads? Good thing someone’s figured out the smart way to grow the Grand List—REVAL!

SALT-y tears April 13, 2018 at 8:23 pm

THIS JUST IN—new GGP/Brookfield program to address lagging NPS test scores with creation of certificate program in Giant Fake Ribbon Cutting Scissors ✂️ production. State demand of 169 fake cardboard scissors per year per Town predicted to yield 15 more low paying jobs and 3 added layers of needless administrative oversight.

Rick April 14, 2018 at 8:40 pm

Gentleman Sen. Chris Murphy and Blumenthal spoke out against our country tonight on the military intervention along with our allies. Yet Esty and DeLauro agreed “a timely and targeted response to the Assad regime’s violation of international law.”

Maybe you 4 don’t agree with the two men who are not in sync with the rest of the world.Now Murphy is calling it another Vietnam and calling for “robust diplomatic, economic, and humanitarian efforts,” this impacts how people receive us.

maybe Chris thinks a ice cream day with Assad is in order.

You 4 sit there you must understand money we need from DC doesn’t happen when these two men talk crap. DeLauro just got a good chunk of change from DC for her district maybe its time we send men to DC who can bring some money hone to help you guys, instead of shooting their mouth off before the nation weighs in.

Has anyone told these two guys Russia is in the picture also?

Some of the hardware that flew into Syria has some Ct ties gentlemen , some of the launching platforms have Ct ties not that that’s a good excuse to condone such decisions but the pictures I see of the kids over there tells me diplomacy for the last few years with as many presidents may be not be the way to go.

Ct needs money our taxpayers are tapped and to think money from DC will come how much depends on who we have working for us and standing up for us, lately it seems we have no one.

Himes is waiting to say anything his silence speaks volumes,

so much for that now what about

Public Act 14-222 creates a state Port Authority to oversee and promote Connecticut’s three deep water seaports. The new quasi-public Port Authority, which will be fully operational Oct. 1, 2015, will perform a number of functions regarding coordination and development of the state’s coastal ports in Bridgeport, New Haven and New London.

This will include marketing ports to domestic and foreign shippers, seeking private investments, connecting to rail service, and pursuing state and federal funding for dredging and other infrastructure improvements to increase shipping and cargo capacity

In Connecticut, 19 million tons of cargo, 2.6 million people and 850,000 vehicles are moved over water by private operators each year.(old news)

Now all I find is meetings ending in 2015 and a web site

http://ctportauthority.com/

NORWALK, Conn. – State Rep. Chris Perone (D-Norwalk), the House chairman of the legislative Commerce Committee, applauded the creation of a Connecticut Port Authority.

So tell us whats going on seems like after millions of dollars nothing is going on any chance Chris you could set the record straight, it looks like one of Bob Duffs wall st projects.

Joe April 15, 2018 at 10:05 pm

Connecticut’s “sanctuary” policies have cost us our once famous affluence and know how..

I think Billingualism has really hurt the productivity and efficiency of our public schools.

CT has been replacing fleeing asset-column American citizens with illegal foreign peasants for two decades now. No wonder we’re broke.

Like, in 2014, DOT Comm Currey asked and got 60,000 drivers licenses for illegals (WTNH TV). Up to 3,000 illegals per day were showing up at our DMV’s to get these so-called licenses.

In the short term. dems got fodder for their social services machine and greedy rino business owners reaped the profits of cheap slave-like labor at the expense of our remaining American middle class.

Sure, let’s have a county system, but please, make Bridgeport and New Haven their own county. They deserve each other.

Piberman April 16, 2018 at 10:17 am

Our part time Legislators have been talking now for decades. Some even boasting they’re “standing up for us”. Keep it up. Talking is how we solve CT’s problems. Maybe if we had full time Legislators up to date with college freshman economics and finance we’d make some progress. Maybe not.

Rick April 17, 2018 at 1:47 pm

Nothing for you something for him

Just in

$2.6 million for his re-election, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes has reported

makes sense he has had time to work for his supper

Curious, can anyone of you guys tell us how much Jim brought to Norwalk?

yes gentlemen thats why they call it chump change and thats how has Norwalk voted.

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