Update, 2 p.m, WestCOG letter opposing SB-1 added; “would” changed to “could” in David McCarthy quote.
NORWALK, Conn. – If Bob Duff can make time to read to children, he ought to be able to make time to talk to the Common Council about a bill that would “take money away from every single Norwalker,” Public Works Committee Chairman David McCarthy (R-District E) said Tuesday.
McCarthy led the charge in opposition to Senate Bill 1, which is co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Duff (D-Norwalk/Darien), as the Council voted 10 to 0, with three abstentions, in favor of a resolution condemning the bill. This was after a 7-6 vote against tabling the resolution to give Duff a chance to explain things to the Council.
The one-liner describing S.B. 1, An Act Concerning Tax Fairness and Economic Development, on the state’s website is “To adjust the state grants in lieu of taxes for state-owned real property and property owned by private nonprofit colleges and hospitals.”
Objections included the bills’ use of a formula and the idea that the recently created Council of Governments system will be used to tax Norwalk, although assurances had been made that wouldn’t happen.
The bill would institute a statewide car tax, adjust the state’s Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program, and introduce a revenue sharing system for new commercial and industrial developments.
McCarthy said he had done some math. If the bill were to pass as written today, it would mean that Norwalk would get 83 cents back on every dollar sent to Hartford. Norwalk would need to hike its taxes 17 percent to stay even, except that those dollars are also taxed, so the real tax hike would be 25 percent, McCarthy said.
Stamford would get 85 cents back, while Bridgeport would get $2.05 for every dollar it sends to Hartford, he said. Hartford itself would get $2.94 for its dollar.
“The massive redistribution of funds from a struggling city, that is just keeping it together, off to cities that are failing is not in our interest and only serves to further feed an inefficient government beast that will consume us all in the end,” McCarthy said. “Bob Duff should not be aiding and abetting Hartford, he should be representing Norwalk and Darien and that just doesn’t seem to be happening. I don’t think anybody should be trying to balance the state’s budget on Norwalk’s back. This bill needs to be killed and our state budget needs to be balanced and gimmick free.”
But wait, there’s more – the mil rate on cars could go up to 51 from the currently proposed 29, McCarthy said, reading from a letter prepared by Western Connecticut Council of Governments (WestCOG). That’s because the first $3,000 of value would be exempt, he said. And the state would strip Norwalk of taxes related to new development – so why would anyone want to allow a mall to get built here?
“Norwalk gets to deal with the difficulties, bear the burden of the infrastructure costs, and Bob Duff takes all the tax benefits up to Hartford,” McCarthy said. “The addition of a mall could actually end up costing taxpayers money if the bill passes as it is written.”
Legislators said they support building a mall in Norwalk, but said nothing about sharing revenue with Norwalk, Council Majority Leader Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) said, suggesting the legislators only care about the taxes that will go to the state.
“I am frustrated and mad as hell, I am about ‘kill the bill.’ It’s going to hurt Norwalk with no benefits,” Hempstead said, adding an “I told you so” about joining the WestCOG.
Councilman John Kydes (D-District C) said he also has a lot of concerns about the bill, but tried to defend Duff.
The bill is in its infancy, he said, quoting Duff from a phone conversation.
“I find often, political parties don’t like to reach out to a member of the opposite party,” Kydes said. “I know specifically with Mr. Duff, let’s just say he doesn’t get a lot of phone calls from a lot of Republicans.”
“I have been in conversation with virtually all of our legislative delegates and everyone has indicated a desire to meet with us and discuss with us and answer any questions that we do have,” Mayor Harry Rilling said. “ … With the legislature being in session it’s very difficult to try to schedule because they are up there late at night sometimes.”
Duff had been attempting to schedule a meeting with the Council leadership about the bill, Rilling said. Any Council member would be welcome, but it would probably be on a Saturday morning.
McCarthy said he had just gotten a “breaking news alert” from The Hour about Duff reading “Dragons Love Tacos” to 4-year-olds. Duff discussed S.B. 1 with Darien selectmen at their last meeting, he said, and he should show the Council the same courtesy and come to the next meeting.
Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) agreed. “This is a public issue, it affects people of Norwalk, so I don’t think behind-the-scenes discussions is the right way to go on a bill that affects taxpayers,” Kimmel said.
McCarthy said he wanted to get an explanation from Duff, but at this point, as far as supporting the bill goes, “I am firmly going the other way. It just seems bad in all respects for Norwalk and indeed for all of our neighbors in Fairfield County and beyond. This bill will discourage development and I suggest that this Council and the city of Norwalk should leave the Council of Governments before we allow any of this to happen to us.”
“As it’s being considered, you can’t help but wonder what the heck is the point of building the mall if you’re not going to get the increase in the tax base in the first place?” Councilman Rich Bonenfant (R-At Large) said. “All you’re going to get is traffic, so in the back of my mind I’ve got a lot of projects that, to me, they’re as good as on hold until this gets straightened out.”
Other communities don’t want hospitals, he said. They come to Norwalk Hospital, and Norwalk doesn’t get its fair share of property tax on the land it sits on, he said, referring to the PILOT program. The reimbursement from the state used to be 75 percent of the lost property tax, but now it’s 25 percent, he said.
Councilman David Watts (D-District A) lauded McCarthy’s passion on the topic but suggested tabling the motion. Kimmel said he could go either way on the topic, as Duff could still come talk to the Council even if the resolution is passed.
“In two weeks if Sen. Duff cannot make it to his hometown legislative body because of a conflict we will have to just address it then. Bob has the ability to seemingly be everywhere all the time, so I am sure he can figure out a way to do this,” Kimmel said.
That eventually failed; Michelle Maggio (R-District C), Jerry Petrini (R-District D), Shannon O’Toole Giandurco (R-District D), McCarthy, Bonenfant, Hempstead and Kimmel voted against the motion to table. Voting for tabling were Sharon Stewart (D-At Large), Eloisa Melendez (D-District A), Phaedrel “Faye” Bowman (D-District B), Travis Simms (D-District B), Kydes and Watts. John Igneri (D-District E) and Glenn Iannaccone (R-At Large) were absent.
Rilling said he had been in Hartford Tuesday talking about S.B. 1 and other things. While he has concerns about the bill, “I also recognize the fact that when a bill comes into a committee often times it goes into it extreme and what comes out of committee is much weaker and more watered down,” he said.
The Western Connecticut Council of Governments has also spoken against the bill, he said.
“I know Sen. Duff is more than willing to come and discuss this with us,” Rilling said. “… I am relatively confident that this bill will come out of committee significantly different than it went in or it may die altogether.”
Abstaining on the resolution were Melendez, Simms and Kydes.
The effort will not be in vain, according to State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143).
Lavielle, at the beginning of the meeting, thanked the Council members for their vigilance and attention, saying that the resolution passed at the last Council meeting in opposition to House Bill 6581 had been effective.
“Your resolution in opposition to that bill was looked at with great seriousness by members of the Planning and Development Committee who subsequently altered the bill a great deal,” Lavielle said. “…You are listened to, I want you to know that. That bill is in Finance Committee now and they have to take a vote on that by the first of May.”
Duff did not respond to a request for comment.