Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Mayor pushes legislative agenda

By Elizabeth Benton
Register Staff
— Mayor John DeStefano Jr. unveiled the city’s legislative agenda Monday, concentrating political efforts on property tax reform, prison re-entry initiatives, downtown development and restored funding for payment-in-lieu of taxes.
The city will seek millions in state and federal aid for education, environment, development and community initiatives, but has not released a total dollar amount claiming the full agenda is unlikely to be funded, according to city spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga.
DeStefano has called for property taxes to be capped at 5 to 6 percent of income, to be paid for by a repeal of the property tax credit.
The city agenda also seeks to restore PILOT funds for hospital and college property. According to city officials, New Haven has not been fully reimbursed for those tax-exempt properties since 2001. While the city is due 77 percent of what would have been paid by a private owner, last year the city was reimbursed only 58 percent. The city is seeking a $20 million to $25 million increase in PILOT funds.
The agenda also reveals what New Haven seeks in public aid for the Route 34 East project to rebuild the city street grid through the Route 34 corridor between North Frontage Road and Legion Avenue.
The city will seek $75 million from the federal government and $25 million from the state to rebuild roads there, opening the area for an estimated $225 million of private investment.
Following the state’s sweeping criminal justice reform legislation passed last week, which added $7 million for prison re-entry and alternative-to-incarceration programs for New Haven, Hartford and Bridgeport, the city continued its push for $500,000 in state aid and $2 million in federal funds for its own re-entry efforts Monday.
"These are tough times. We need to stick together to make sure we get through them together," said Aldermanic President Carl Goldfield, D-29. "In the long term, the state will be happy it did."
State and federal legislators were noticeably absent from the Monday morning event.
City Hall and the state delegation do not always mesh on legislative priorities, resulting in mixed messages to Hartford leadership, according to one legislator.
The issue was underscored Monday when state Rep. Patricia Dillon announced she had filed legislation seeking a $780,000 appropriation for a new ranger station at Edgewood Park.
The message was released just as DeStefano unveiled his priorities, which did not include the ranger station. "I had been hopeful that the mayor would include it," Dillon said.
Dillon said she was invited to the city’s Monday morning press conference after hours Friday, and could not change her schedule in time to attend.
"I’m not sure they really designed it to include the delegation," she said.
Mayorga said DeStefano "supports Rep. Dillon’s efforts to develop this ranger station" and the exclusion of the project from the agenda "in no way indicates the mayor is opposed. … We were simply outlining city-driven initiatives."
According to State Speaker James Amann, D-Milford, disconnect between City Hall and legislators is not uncommon. "New Haven is better than some of the other communities I deal with — Waterbury, Bridgeport, Hartford," he said.
"It’s important to encourage communication. I can’t have the mayor’s priority list and the legislators’ priority list, especially if they don’t match up. You have to give me direction," Amann said.
"Mayors and delegates need to get priorities on the same page when they introduce [legislative agendas] to me. The ones that do, see a lot of success. The ones that don’t, unfortunately go to the wayside," he said.

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