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Regionalism: Legislature Can Pass Four Ways To Save

Hartford Courant

May 05, 2010

For as long as most of us can remember, "regionalism" was treated as a four-letter word in the Land of Steady Habits. Towns went it alone, more or less. But with the state and most municipalities in dire fiscal straits, there is a growing sense that regional cooperation can save money without damaging cherished community ties.

Four bills before the legislature if they can survive the last-minute rush should help engender regional efficiency, and could be the start of a watershed change in how Connecticut governs itself.

The first, and probably the most controversial, would raise the hotel occupancy tax by 3 percent, to bring in an estimated $9 million. One-third of the increase would go to the towns in which the hotels are located and two-thirds to regional planning organizations on a per-capita basis. The agencies can use the funds for regional initiatives such as tourism, economic development or cooperative education programs.

This is controversial because it is a tax increase (from 12 to 15 percent), with all that implies. But there is an upfront cost to most regional projects. This may not be the perfect way to provide the money, but it would work.

In the nettlesome area of unfunded mandates, another bill would require that landlords, under the supervision of state marshals, pick up the cost of removal and delivery of an evicted tenant's possessions and personal property. This cost is currently borne by towns.

A third bill would allow towns and their boards of education to collectively buy health insurance, and the final bill would encourage regional education efficiencies, notably in the area of transportation. If two or more towns can achieve a transportation contract that saves them money, the state will give the towns half the money it saves in lower reimbursements.

"This may be the model for future state grants," said state Rep. Brendan Sharkey, who heads the legislative commission that developed the legislation.

The four bills have passed the House and at press time were awaiting action by the Senate. While the budget has to be the top priority, bills that can lower costs in the long term should make the midnight deadline as well.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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