Bond pro­posal ‘raises serious le­gal is­sues’

The News-Times - - OBITUARIES/FROM THE FRONT PAGE - By Chris­tine Stu­art

HART­FORD — Demo­cratic law­mak­ers on the Fi­nance, Rev­enue, and Bond­ing Com­mit­tee re­leased more than a dozen bills this week, in­clud­ing some that would rad­i­cally change Con­necti­cut’s tax structure.

Many law­mak­ers were still try­ing to di­gest the pro­pos­als Wed­nes­day, and at least one of the bills was panned as un­con­sti­tu­tional by both Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can law­mak­ers.

Se­nate Bill 1134, backed by Sen. John Fon­fara, D-Hart­ford, would take the power of the state Bond Com­mis­sion away from the ex­ec­u­tive branch and give it to the leg­isla­tive branch.

If the bill passes it would put the Se­nate pres­i­dent and House speaker in charge of the Bond Com­mis­sion, which over­sees all the bor­row­ing for in­fra­struc­ture projects. Un­der the leg­is­la­tion, lead­ers from both par­ties would re­place mem­bers of the ex­ec­u­tive branch on the 10-mem­ber board, which is chaired by Gov. Ned La­mont.

The gov­er­nor now con­trols what in­fra­struc­ture projects get funded. Ear­lier this year, La­mont an­nounced the state would go on a “debt diet” and bor­row about $500 mil­lion less per year than in pre­vi­ous years.

La­mont brags about how fa­vor­ably Wall Street viewed that de­ci­sion, but on the other hand he may have un­der­es­ti­mated how much some of those projects mean to lo­cal leg­is­la­tors and the im­pact of post­pon­ing them on his abil­ity to ac­com­plish the rest of his leg­isla­tive agenda.

Fon­fara said de­cid­ing what gets put on the state credit card “should not be re­duced to a catchy slo­gan. This is too important to our state.” He ac­cused the administra­tion of back­ing into the num­ber it’s us­ing to re­duce Con­necti­cut’s bor­row­ing. He said it’s not a re­spon­si­ble way of gov­ern­ing and makes it seem as if the gov­er­nor doesn’t want to over­see the state’s cap­i­tal in­vest­ments.

“Se­na­tor Fon­fara’s pro­posal to re­move ex­ec­u­tive branch rep­re­sen­ta­tion from the Bond Com­mis­sion raises serious le­gal is­sues,” Mari­bel La Luz, La­mont’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor, said. “It vi­o­lates the sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers doc­trine of our state con­sti­tu­tion. If passed, the ac­tions of the Bond Com­mis­sion would be sus­cep­ti­ble to le­gal chal­lenges, cast­ing sig­nif­i­cant doubt in the cap­i­tal mar­kets about the va­lid­ity of au­tho­riza­tions by our Bond Com­mis­sion go­ing for­ward. We re­ject this pro­posal in this en­tirety.”

Fon­fara said the Leg­is­la­ture au­tho­rizes bil­lions in bond­ing and has “zero say” in what projects get funded and has to re­sort to “beg­ging” to get any­thing done.

Fon­fara said that if La­mont doesn’t want the re­spon­si­bil­ity then the leg­is­la­ture is ready to take over. He said most states don’t have a Bond Com­mis­sion. In those states, projects are approved through the leg­isla­tive process, he added.

Fon­fara’s fight with the administra­tion comes at a cru­cial time in the bud­get process. Next week the Leg­is­la­ture will put for­ward their bud­gets, and ne­go­ti­a­tions over a fi­nal pack­age will be­gin with the gov­er­nor’s of­fice.

Se­nate Repub­li­can Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said hand­ing over the Bond Com­mis­sion to the leg­is­la­ture would turn it into a “po­lit­i­cal night­mare.”

He said it would take the idea of po­lit­i­cal lever­age to an ex­treme and give way too much power to the party in con­trol.

House Speaker Joe Ares­i­mow­icz, D-Berlin, said he doesn’t want to change the bal­ance of power be­tween the branches.

“I ap­pre­ci­ate all of our roles and that’s not a role I feel com­fort­able tak­ing on,” Ares­i­mow­icz said.

The bill will re­ceive a public hearing on Mon­day.

Also on the agenda for that public hearing is Se­nate Bill 1139, which looks to elim­i­nate the mo­tor ve­hi­cle tax over five years. It would seek to hold towns mostly harm­less from the loss of rev­enue by al­low­ing them to as­sess prop­erty at 100 per­cent of its value. Cur­rently, the assessed value is at 70 per­cent.

Rep. Ja­son Ro­jas, D-East Hart­ford, said the goal of the leg­is­la­tion is to try and hold towns harm­less if the mo­tor ve­hi­cle tax is elim­i­nated. He ad­mit­ted it does cre­ate some win­ners and losers, but be­lieves towns will be able to find a way to bal­ance their rev­enues over the five years they are given to ad­just.

The Con­necti­cut Conference of Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties warned that get­ting rid of the mo­tor ve­hi­cle tax can’t be done in a vac­uum.

“It is worth more than $800 mil­lion to mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties,” Kevin Maloney, a spokesman for CCM, said. “It needs to be part of a more holis­tic ap­proach to prop­erty tax re­form.”

He sug­gested greater lo­cal rev­enue di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion and re­lief from things like the min­i­mum bud­get re­quire­ment for lo­cal public ed­u­ca­tion.

An­other bill — SB 1138 — that will get a public hearing Mon­day is one that would cre­ate an in­vest­ment fund with rev­enue from cannabis legalizati­on and a vol­un­tary tax paid by col­leges and hos­pi­tals.

The Gen­eral As­sem­bly would have to le­gal­ize cannabis be­fore the state re­al­izes any new rev­enue, which is es­ti­mated to be around $50 mil­lion an­nu­ally.

The bill would also re­quire col­leges and hos­pi­tals to con­trib­ute 25 per­cent of what they would pay in prop­erty taxes to the state and the state would then re­dis­tribute the money to the towns. By hav­ing the state col­lect the rev­enues, in­stead of mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, it could loosen the spend­ing cap, Rep. Chris Davis, R-East Wind­sor, said.

The bill would also cre­ate com­mu­nity im­pact zones, devel­op­ment opportunit­ies, and a tax credit for com­mu­ni­ties that have been the most im­pacted by the “War on Drugs.”

Em­i­lie Mun­son / Hearst Con­necti­cut Media

A bill backed by state Sen. John Fon­fara, D-Hart­ford, right, would take the power of the state Bond Com­mis­sion away from the ex­ec­u­tive branch and give it to the leg­isla­tive branch.

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