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Norwalk Council fires off an angry message to Bob Duff: Kill your bill

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.

Public Works Committee Chairman David McCarthy (R-District E) speaks his mind at Tuesday's Common Council meeting in City Hall.

Public Works Committee Chairman David McCarthy (R-District E) speaks his mind at Tuesday’s Common Council meeting in City Hall.

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.

WestCOG SB1 Letter (DRAFT)

 

16 comments

Lisa Thomson April 15, 2015 at 6:51 am

It’s not often that I agree with Dave McCarthy, but he has it right with this one – as does our Common Council. Like the majority of people in Norwalk, I diligently voted for Bob Duff year after year – because Bob was such a good guy, right? Then a couple of years ago, I realized that he had spent so much time in Hartford, that he’d become part of the state establishment. Now, as the Number 2 Dem in the state, his job is to siphon off as many tax dollars as he can from Norwalk and Darien and send them to Hartford. Besides this bill, his other great legislative fight this year has been for the casinos. Very disappointing – but Bob knows that I feel that way about him already. Great politician – everybody votes for him- but horrible representative for Norwalk. This is a classic example of what happens to good people when a state has one-party rule.

Drew Todd April 15, 2015 at 8:30 am

Dan Malloy’s Whipping Boy! You would think with all of that power he would do MORE for the people who sent him there like. Maybe he should take a lesson from Gail’s playbook and learn what it’s really like to support your home district, And that doesn’t mean just stopping in for a photo op. He could have helped with ECS and had this bill and others killed or re-written even before they get to committee. But if Danny Boy doesn’t want it that way Bob will lead the charge of his wishes. And if we got more ECS or what is rightfully owed to us in Norwalk, we wouldn’t have the Band or Sports members have to pay to play or perform. It’s getting a little tiring supporting the other towns and cities in this state. We in Norwalk have had enough! I give credit to the Council for standing up for the people of this great city! Thank You!

McKeen Shanogg April 15, 2015 at 9:18 am

I don’t know about Hartford, but Bridgeport is so corrupt, I would not support one dime of my taxes going to help them out. Let them clean up the corruption and then we can talk about “redistributing” property tax money.

Piberman April 15, 2015 at 9:32 am

The larger question is why Senator Duff isn’t working to prevent the Governor’s next tax hike headed our way and why some Council members were just “present” on this important discussion.

Bill Dunne April 15, 2015 at 10:10 am

The genius in this bill is its opaqueness. Who in God’s name can figure out what this means: “To adjust the state grants in lieu of taxes for state-owned real property and property owned by private nonprofit colleges and hospitals”. Nobody but Gov. Malloy and his fellow con artists who calculate that they can slip it passed the sucker voters before they realize they’ve been had.

Kudos to Gail Lavielle for originally spotting SB-1 for the monstrosity that it is, and to Dave McCarthy for working out the real tangible damage it would do to our town. As for Bob Duff, we can always count on him to do what he does best: stab Norwalk in the back.

Liz Mao April 15, 2015 at 10:45 am

Norwalk residents might like to see Darien resident Laurie Williamson’s comments on the bill:

Comments of Laurie Williamson on Senate Bill 1 to Board of Selectmen – 4/6/15

Although my service as a Darien SWRPA representative ended last year when all regional planning organizations like SWRPA did, the following reflects solely my concerns about Hartford’s perpetual lack of fiscal responsibility — most recently through the current proposal in Senate Bill 1 of a new regional taxation system substantially similar in results to county taxation in other States.

Last year the governor and a legislative majority (led by public Union leaders or their allies) mandated creation of state-wide “Councils of Governments.” However, COG’s did not at that point have tax authority. Darien’s COG includes the cities of Stamford, Danbury, Norwalk, and Greenwich, and 13 other mostly suburban, well-to-do towns such as New Canaan, Wilton, Westport and Weston.

SB 1 would clearly authorize each COG to operate as a new level of State government taxation, regardless of terminology battles over “county” versus “regional” government. Our COG would collect yearly a portion of local property taxes, as stipulated by formula. Then it will re-distribute such locally paid property taxes among all the COG cities or towns, as stipulated by a different formula.

Why? What is a realistic view of impact of COG taxation on areas of well-to-do taxpayers? For well-to-do, business-creating towns such as Darien, SB 1 will operate as a dangerous, new, additional tax on its families and businesses, despite being disguised and misleadlingly promoted as “fairness,” “economic development,” and “revenue sharing” for all.

A portion of local property taxes, already arguably too high, will be siphoned off by the COG. The resulting deficit left in all local budgets will likely not be reimbursed to towns deemed too well-to-do by Hartford. Instead Darien taxpayers will have to pay more in annual local property taxes to offset net outflow of COG taxes so we can continue the same level of local government services and quality of life. And again we will forfeit significant local control of use of our tax dollars.

It’s meaningless to talk about whether municipalities will be “held harmless.” That has never been the case with State tax re-distribution schemes like “Educational Cost Sharing” or “Excess Cost Reimbursement,” in which Darien reportedly receives one cent back on every dollar sent to Hartford. Darien will be “held harmless” in SB 1’s proposed changes to car taxation only at 2014 levels, and it will be “held harmless” under SB 1’s proposed changes to the system of State payments to Darien through “Payments in Lieu of Taxes” (PILOT) only at 2015 levels.

How did SB 1 happen? Three inconvenient realities. One inconvenient reality is that structural problems require structural solutions. Hartford appears unable or unwilling simply to insist on truly transparent, balanced budgets. Instead, legislative majorities have become hooked on deficit spending habits, and on observing the state constitutional spending cap by routinely breaching it. Every year we spend State money everyone knows we don’t have — and in fact won’t have — but the legislature repeatedly mandates spending much, much more for expenses than will be received in income.

Another inconvenient reality is the legislature’s inexplicable, and now dangerous, state of denial. It fails to recognize that dysfunctional deficit spending habits inevitably, needlessly produce bad consequences. This year’s current budget deficit is nearly $200 million, and is unlikely to be rescued by April 15 tax collections. Worse, legislative leaders also effectively deny that the greater the deficits, the greater the bad consequences. Thus state taxpayers face an upcoming 2 year budget with a structural operating deficit of nearly $3 Billion, according to the legislature’s own non-partisan financial analysis offices, or about $1,000 from each of the state’s 3 million residents. Our families and businesses will continue to struggle with the highest tax burden per capita of any state in the USA.

The third and most inconvenient reality is such legislative denial has become alarming, given two self-imposed, highly inconvenient circumstances. One is that Hartford recently enacted the largest State tax increase in the State’s history. The other is that the governor and legislature reportedly have taken off the table any hiring freeze, or any reduction in 55,000 state union employees’ salaries, pensions, health care, or other benefits. Instead this very small State of 3 million people is supposed to be further burdened to support an entire new level of taxation. An estimated $4 million price tag for communities like Darien will be only the start of this monster octopus, once in place.

Best advice? Kill this bill. Instead? Revamp out-of-control deficit spending habits. Adopt State budgets that are transparent and honestly balanced. End resort to budget gimmicks. Institute generally accepted accounting principles. Restore trust of taxpayers that state budgeting will reverse its unsustainable appetite for routinely spending far more than it collects in tax and other income, and for non-stop creation of unsustainable levels of debt and deficit spending.

Oldtimer April 15, 2015 at 11:12 am

At the time these bills were first announced Senator Duff made it clear that they were not his, they were the Governor’s and were only introduced as if he and the Republican minority leader were proposing them as a courtesy to the governor, who is never listed as the proposer of a bill. He also made it clear he had no expectation any version of either bill would survive unless there were major changes.
The Republican council members know, or should know, this, and all this political theater about not being able to get Duff to attend a council meeting and defend these bills in
front of the council is just politics at it’s worst. They know Senator Duff will not defend these bills as proposed, as he agrees they are very unfair to Norwalk, but an effort to get more money for the state.

Bill Nightingale, Jr April 15, 2015 at 11:39 am

This is one of the issues I have always said Norwalk needs to buck up and address. All the costly needs for the region get dumped on this town: hospitals, housing projects, power plants that pollute and leave without taking responsibility, transit hubs, department motor vehicles, big box retail, interstate highways (that end at the boarder of our wealthy neighbors!), interstate highway interchanges – all these things detract immensely from our property tax base. Norwalk needs to man up and stand its ground.

FYI April 15, 2015 at 11:51 am

@Oldtimer:
You are spot on. Yesterday I attended an out-of-town presentation by Senator Duff that was followed by a question-answer session. This presentation had been scheduled well in advance. Senator Duff explained to the audience the process by which a bill is proposed, sent to committee, modified, killed or voted upon. For example, he mentioned that yesterday some 20 – 25 bills had been passed by the senate in just one day with unanimous, bi-partisan approval 35-0, with one senator absent. He explained how both sides of the aisle in Hartford work together, each presenting their positions on issues, but almost always working in good faith for the benefit of the residents of Connecticut.

David McCarthy April 15, 2015 at 3:52 pm

Old Timer and “FYI”, you are 100% incorrect. HB-6851 was a bill introduced by state senator Duff on behalf of the Governor, and when we discussed and condemned it, I was very clear to say exactly that.

SB-1 is sponsored by state senators Duff and Looney. I received word today (Weds) that Bob Duff is appearing in New London tomorrow night to sell his bill, in what must be a series of meetings outside Norwalk where he seems to be working very hard to get this bill passed.

Personally, I don’t care how many bills pass or don’t pass the GA, I care about this bill, which, as written (I assume by the sponsors) would necessitate a massive tax hike for citizens of Norwalk.

In fact, “FYI” it is this sort of “sleight of hand” nonsense that allows bills to get through the assembly and hurt Norwalk. It’s all a work in progress and won’t happen, right up until when it is passed at 2AM on the last day of the session.

No doubt there are bills passed unanimously, just as the council can agree to let the Girl Scouts use the park…but that isn’t the case with a multi-million dollar scheme like this.

(and yes, I know, I am commenting on NoN)

Bill April 15, 2015 at 4:11 pm

Time to primary Bod Duff. This guy will tax Norwalk to death if it means he can get higher office with a higher salary in state government.

Dear Bob,

Perhaps you forgot who you work for.

Don't Panic April 16, 2015 at 7:19 am

Where is the the new golden boy we elected to Hartford in all of this? Mr. Wilms seems content to let Ms Lavielle be the voice of Norwalk. Why is Mr. McCarthy not inviting a member of his own team to take up the charge? Mr. Cafero, whose seat Mr. Wilms now occupies, would have been all over this. If I recall correctly, Mr. Wilms’ opponent actually had a policy position on the COG in last year’s race. Has Mr. Wilms even looked at this issue?

Taxpayer April 16, 2015 at 2:13 pm

Upon further reading of SB1, it is my belief that the Bill is unconstitutional in that it violates Article 10, Section 2, of the Connecticut Constitution, governing HOME RULE.

Specifically, the Connecticut Constitution states that the General Assembly may prescribe the methods by which towns … MAY establish regional governments … and the methods towns … MAY enter into compacts. By its very language the State Constitution provides that the towns MAY (not MUST) enter into regional governments by compact. “Compact” denotes agreement among the member towns or cities to such regional government formation.

Given that the State Constitution, Article 10, denotes HOME RULE by each of the various towns and cities, it is clear to me that the State Constitution provides for the voluntary formation (i.e., MAY) of regional governments by voluntary compact of the member towns. There is nothing in the State Constitution that enables the General Assembly to mandate or require such regional government or quasi-government formations. Therefore, SB1 should be withdrawn as it exceeds the General Assembly’s powers and violates the principle of Home Rule set forth in our Constitution.

Don't Panic April 16, 2015 at 5:08 pm

@Taxpayer,

Norwalk was not compelled by mandate to join WCCOG, any more than it was compelled by mandate to join SWRPA before it. The state used the “offer that can’t be refused” by governments everywhere to compel compliance. The only avenue to State grant money and Federal grant money that is administered by the State is via applications that are approved by a COG. Norwalk is free to decline to participate (as it very nearly did, costing us just about all of the fourth quarter grant money in 2014), but it would be very costly to do so.

Don Chiodo April 17, 2015 at 11:08 am

I propose that moving forward April 15th not be referred to as Tax Day but The Day Lisa Thomson Agreed With Dave McCarthy Day.

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