Looney talks pos­si­ble run for gov­er­nor

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Mary O’Leary moleary@nhreg­is­ter.com @nhrmoleary on Twit­ter

Demo­cratic state Se­nate Pro Tem­pore laid out what would have to un­fold to make that a re­al­ity.

NEW HAVEN >> This sce­nario in­volves a lot of vari­ables.

In a field ex­pected to be crowded for both par­ties, will Demo­cratic state Se­nate Pro Tem­pore Martin M. Looney of New Haven run for gov­er­nor?

Looney, in a dis­cus­sion with the New Haven Reg­is­ter ed­i­to­rial board, laid out what would have to un­fold to make that a re­al­ity.

First, Gov. Dan­nel P. Mal­loy would have to leave of­fice in the next few months. Lt. Gov. Nancy Wy­man would them be­come govenor and Looney would leave the state Se­nate to be­come lieu­tenant gov­er­nor.

If Wy­man ul­ti­mately de­cided not to run for govenor, “I would cer­tainly run at that point un­der those cir­cum­stances,” Looney said.

“I think the key thing is peo­ple are wait­ing to hear the lieu­tenant gov­er­nor’s plans. That will im­pact quite a few peo­ple in their plan­ning,” Looney said.

One other fac­tor: Mal­loy, af­ter an­nounc­ing this month that he will not seek a third term, said he has ev­ery in­ten­tion of re­main­ing in of­fice for the next 18 months and, no, Looney has not run this sce­nario past him.

The Se­nate leader said this is the one cir­cum­stance he cur­rently can iden­tify in which he would run.

“Other cir­cum­stances, I do not know yet,” he said.

Be­yond a short con­tem­pla­tion on the pos­si­bil­ity of higher of­fice, the ma­jor­ity of Looney’s dis­cus­sion was about the state bud­get, taxes, teacher pen­sions and le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana.

He also put the odds at 50-50 on fin­ish­ing the leg­isla­tive ses­sion be­fore law­mak­ers are sched­uled to ad­journ June 7.

“I think we have a bet­ter than av­er­age chance of get­ting a bud­get be­fore the end of the fis­cal year. But if we go be­yond July 1, it will be open-ended as far as how long it will take,” Looney said.

On recre­ational mar­i­juana, the is­sue did not get a vote in the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, but it is a fully de­vel­oped bill with a pub­lic hear­ing and Looney would not rule out in­clud­ing it in the fi­nal bud­get or the bud­get im­ple­menter.

“It will come at the point where we would have to close the deal on the last $100 mil­lion in the bud­get,” Looney spec­u­lated.

Eight states and the Dis­trict of Columbia have le­gal­ized it, with Colorado, the first state to do so, re­al­iz­ing more than $100 mil­lion in an­nual rev­enue. Closer to home, Mas­sachusetts has joined the group, with le­gal­iza­tion set for 2018.

“We have to rec­og­nize that mar­i­juana has been and will con­tinue to be avail­able — le­gal or not. The ex­per­i­ment with pro­hi­bi­tion should have taught us a les­son that we ap­par­ently never learned,” Looney said.

The is­sue, has split law­mak­ers and Mal­loy does not fa­vor le­gal­iza­tion. The pub­lic, how­ever, in a 2015 Quin­nip­iac poll, fa­vored le­gal­iza­tion of small amounts for adults by 63 per­cent.

The bot­tom line is how to deal with a pro­jected $1.7 bil­lion deficit in fis­cal 2017-18 and the $1.9 bil­lion deficit an­tic­i­pated in fis­cal 2018-19.

Looney said the pro­pos­als sent to law­mak­ers by Mal­loy on shar­ing the cost of teach­ers pen­sions with the towns; re­vi­sions to the Ed­u­ca­tional Cost Shar­ing grant; and his pro­posed tax on hos­pi­tal real es­tate all will be mod­i­fied.

Mal­loy hopes to ad­dress $700 mil­lion of the $1.7 bil­lion through union con­ces­sions and $407 mil­lion if the towns pick up one-third of the cost of teacher re­tire­ment ben­e­fits.

The last piece in­volves the hos­pi­tals, with Mal­loy propos­ing towns be al­lowed to tax the prop­erty and build­ings of hos­pi­tals within their bor­ders, which the ad­min­is­tra­tion es­ti­mates will cost them about $212 mil­lion.

Con­necti­cut would then bump up Med­i­caid pay­ments by $250 mil­lion to cover that. The hos­pi­tals are wary, how­ever, that the state will come through with this, par­tic­u­larly in light of the un­known in­ten­tions of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment on Med­i­caid.

New Haven Mayor Toni Harp has said she is re­luc­tant to tax Yale New Haven Hos­pi­tal, un­less, as Looney has said, law­mak­ers amend the pro­posal to prom­ise to hold the hos­pi­tals harm­less on a loss of Med­i­caid fund­ing.

Lau­rence Grotheer, spokesman for Harp, said the mayor is also cog­nizant that some­thing as new as tax­ing the hos­pi­tals would in­volve a le­gal chal­lenge, in ad­di­tion to prop­erty as­sess­ment ap­peals, ty­ing up the pay­ments for a long time.

Looney said by al­low­ing this real es­tate tax, the state would save the $55 mil­lion it now puts into the PI­LOT (pay­ment in lieu of taxes) pro­gram that pays a per­cent­age of the tax rev­enue lost to towns where tax-ex­empt hos­pi­tals are lo­cated.

The Se­nate leader said for New Haven it is a much bet­ter al­ter­na­tive than the PI­LOT as it would be get­ting the full tax on hos­pi­tal real es­tate.

Harp ac­tu­ally fa­vors the rev­enue sug­ges­tions floated by Con­necti­cut Voices for Chil­dren, Grotheer said. They in­clude, among oth­ers things, a tax on ser­vices; an ad­di­tional half a per­cent­age point on top earn­ers; higher rates on div­i­dends and capital gains.

As for shar­ing pay­ment of teach­ers’ re­tire­ment costs, Looney said Con­necti­cut is only one of a few states where that obli­ga­tion is com­pletely ab­sorbed by the state.

He said, un­der the present ar­range­ment, wealthy com­mu­ni­ties make out the best.

Looney pointed out that Green­wich can af­ford higher salaries and a lower stu­dent-teacher ra­tio for its 8,800 stu­dents.


State Sen. Martin M. Looney speaks with the Reg­is­ter ed­i­to­rial board.

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