Sewer Repair Funding Plan, Bid For Revaluation Relief Stall In Legislature
June 7, 2007
By JEFFREY COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
Just how to fund a $1.6 billion upgrade to the Metropolitan District Commission's faulty sewer system is the question after state lawmakers late Wednesday declined to act on a bill to move funding forward
And although it was an unrelated issue, legislation to give Hartford small-business owners relief from staggering property tax increases found its fate linked to the MDC bill as part of late-night political theater. As a result, it, too, died.
The MDC's antiquated, over-extended sewers have sometimes dumped sewage into rivers and basements, and the agency has been ordered by environmental protection officials to fix the problems. The bill before the legislature would have authorized a water surcharge the MDC had wanted as an element of financing the upgrade.
As the session wound down Wednesday night, House Speaker James Amann told a group of Hartford legislators that tax relief for affected businesses would die unless they dropped language requiring minority job set-asides in the MDC sewer-funding bill - one of high importance to many suburban towns.
The Hartford group called Amann's bluff. The minority jobs came first, they said. Even though the Senate overwhelmingly passed the MDC bill and the minority job set-asides after 11 p.m., the House declined to discuss both it and the tax relief bill.
But while both bills died in the regular session of the legislature, their backers said they hoped they could be included in the special legislative session, which is scheduled today at 1 p.m.
Many Hartford small businesses are facing increases of 50 percent or more in their property taxes because of the revaluation of property. The city's lawmakers have been scrambling to win approval of a bill that would let Hartford temporarily cap the tax increase on some small businesses - a plan opposed by Perez.
The MDC needs the surcharge on the water it sells to help pay for the sewer upgrade. Sen. Eric D. Coleman, D-Hartford, and Rep. Art Feltman, D-Hartford, attached language to the surcharge bill requiring that some of the jobs from the project go to minority group members.
"If we don't pass legislation this session that influences the composition of those workforces, we'll have lost a huge opportunity," said Feltman.
Perez called a special meeting of the city council for noon Friday to consider implementation of a phase-in of property revaluation - a fallback option.
As the legislative session wound down Wednesday, the politics heated up, threatening both bills. A visibly frustrated Amann lectured a persistent Feltman; MDC officials pleaded their case behind closed doors to the Hartford delegation; and suburban legislators like West Hartford state Rep. David McCluskey pressured their Hartford colleagues to change their minds.
"Because some members of the Hartford delegation insist on having unrealistic affirmative-action goals that jeopardize the clean-water project and our ability to mitigate the cost to our towns, we're not going to let that go without having some say on other issues," McCluskey said. Plus, the MDC is against it, he said.
In the end, the Hartford tactics didn't change. Shortly after 11:10 p.m., the Senate passed the MDC bill with the minority job guarantees by a 30-5 vote. Afterward, Feltman celebrated the Senate victory but conceded that the bill likely would not go to a vote in the House.
Feltman said he believed the MDC bill would have a chance of being considered during the special session.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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