NORWALK, Conn. – Federal help is needed to regenerate urban areas part of an idea that would pay for itself by stimulating local economies, Republican congressional candidate Dan Debicella said Friday in Norwalk.
Debicella, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-Greenwich), convened with former Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia and state Senate Minority Leader John McKinney in front of the Maritime Aquarium to announce a three-prong approach to revitalizing Connecticut cities.
“We’ve had some tremendous progress with great local leaders like Dick Moccia, but Hartford and Washington have been ignoring our cities here in Fairfield County and that needs to change,” Debicella said. “… My plan has three broad elements, which you’ll hear … and they sound very common, but the specifics are new and innovative. The three legs of the plan are bringing jobs to our cities, improving education and restoring the American Dream.”
A “true implementation of Enterprise Zones”
“If you are an existing or new business in one of these zones, then you will pay no federal taxes, no state taxes and your property taxes will be paid for by the federal government,” Debicella said.
That means no capital gains tax and no sales tax, in an approach that combines the best ideas of Democrats and Republicans, he said.
“This is a radical idea that will make our cities compelling for businesses to move into and will help current businesses that are there as well because we don’t want to bias new against existing businesses. This is a radical idea that can actually help give our cities a competitive advantage,” Debicella said.
“We need to start clustering,” Debicella said. “This is an economic theory that other cities have successfully adopted. It says that you can have a specialized industry where you get enough businesses, enough workers and enough know-how and it becomes self-sustaining. Think Silicon Valley when it comes to high tech or the Boston I-95 corridor. … We need to decide what kind of industry we want to create a cluster around and then start that process and we can take the best practices from other cities that have done it.”
“This is where I think both Democrats and Republicans on the federal level have been getting it wrong, because we have wanted to tell cities what they needed to do,” Debicella said.
Republican bad idea: No Child Left Behind; Democratic bad idea: Common Core State Standards.
“We need to actually take some of the lessons of charter schools and bring them to public schools. I am a big fan of charter schools but we can’t characterize the entire system. We need a vibrant public school system,” Debicella said.
Example: “Experimentation with curriculum to allow cross disciplinary teaching,” Debicella said, throwing in an anecdote about Achievement First Bridgeport Academy Elementary School, where he said he saw sixth-graders reading “Moby Dick.”
They were “doing it from a cross curriculum standpoint, looking at the historical context, the literature and the actual grammar as well. That’s the kind of flexibility we should have in our urban schools,” Debicella said.
Mandates from Washington and Hartford should be eased, he said.
“They can spend their money how they think is best,” Debicella said. “… We have to allow them to experiment, to figure out what works.”
“We need leaders who are going to stop being divisive and start believing in the American Dream once again,” Debicella said.
Moccia thanked Debicella for inviting him and took a shot at President Barack Obama’s cancelled Thursday trip to Bridgeport.
“Glad I could make this appearance with you, as a supporter,” Moccia said. “Unfortunately Congressman Himes lost his guy coming in the other day for his rally. I am glad the president finally decided he was commander in chief instead of campaigner in chief and he went back to Washington to do his job.”
“But what Dan talked about is so true,” Moccia said, going on to refer to a Pew poll released Oct. 9 that showed that many people in rich countries are not confident that their children will have a better life than they do. He said he had never before seen the ideas promoted by Debicella. While Gov. Dannel Malloy likes to talk about brilliant minds in Connecticut, the next generation doesn’t have a job, Moccia said.
McKinney said the Maritime Aquarium is a success story that educates tens of thousands of children and brings economic development to SoNo, “but these successes have been too few.”
“The Enterprise Zone levels the playing field. It says to businesses who are here, we want you stay here but to expand here. It says to others we want to drive you to urban areas,” McKinney said.
The original idea of an Enterprise Zone “was never fully implemented, but people took the name and applied it to tax breaks,” McKinney said.
Debicella said there would be no sunset on the breaks given to businesses in his version of an Enterprise Zone.
“In order to make this work, part of the problem we have with tax credits before, they run out and businesses leave. This creates a permanent zone where businesses are going to come and stay. It gives a tremendous advantage to the cities. It’s what we need to actually jump start economic growth in the cities,” Debicella said.
Now, how would this be paid for?
“For the state and the federal government it’s an investment,” Debicella said. “… If you actually are investing in making those businesses grow, you are going to make up that money over time, for all the ancillary economic development that goes on around them. So in the short term the locality is made whole so there will be no loss of local property tax revenue and for the state and the federal government over time that money is going to come back in.”
“The reason why, and it’s the same, for the business already in Bridgeport the costs make it prohibitive to expand. For those who aren’t there, they can’t go in because of all of the local and state taxes. So they go to other places where the tax climate is more favorable, whether it’s somewhere else in Connecticut, or worse, outside the state of Connecticut,” McKinney said.
“The key to this, that’s different than what others have proposed, even what they are doing in New York successfully, is that you have the federal government buy in,” McKinney continued. “If you move a company into Bridgeport with 200 to 300 jobs, you’ve got people who are going to be working in Bridgeport, they’re going to be shopping in Bridgeport, whether it’s cleaners, whether it’s the coffee shop, whether it’s the grocery store, a percentage of those people are then going to buy into Bridgeport where they live where they work, and none of that has happening now and you can’t kick start it because of the high burden of local and state taxes. That’s why we need the federal partnership.”
In response to the press conference, Himes campaign spokeswoman Libby Carlson released this statement:
“Jim Himes has been relentless in fighting to close Southwestern Connecticut’s income gap to ensure that the people he represents have access to better educational and economic opportunities. Jim was instrumental in securing an $11 million federal investment for infrastructure improvements at Bridgeport’s Steelpointe Harbor, and he fought to bring $30 million to help rebuild South Norwalk’s Washington Village, a community that was devastated by Hurricane Sandy. These awards were the largest federal investments in each city’s history. And unlike his opponent, Jim has consistently pushed to increase the minimum wage so that hardworking families don’t have to struggle to meet basic needs.”
Debicella’s comments about a “cross curriculum standpoint” are reminiscent of comments made by Norwalk educators in explaining Common Core State Standards.
“We will do our ‘Frog and Toad’ book just like we always did, but now we will pair it with an informational text on frogs and toads,” said Wolfpit Elementary School Assistant Principal Maureen Jones in January, referring to what she said is a classic series of easy reader books, “Frog and Toad.”
She spoke of digging deeper into text, teaching children to find evidence to write arguments to present and prove cogent opinions. Lessons on grammar, capitalization, sentence structure are integrated and there are oral presentations as well, she said, explaining, “Writing and reading are always integrated, and then speaking and listening, it’s a big part of it as well.”