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Lamont Ratchets Up Pressure for Vote on Tolls

By Keith M. Phaneuf

www.ctmirror.org

Gov. Ned Lamont urged business and labor groups today to ratchet up pressure on fearful legislators to vote on his tolls proposal before the session ends on June 5.

The Democratic governor also disclosed he would support a temporary transfer of $100 million per year in bonding from other programs to transportation to accelerate construction work until toll receipts arrive in 2024.

“I have reached out to Republicans and Democrats,” Lamont said during a news conference overlooking ongoing reconstruction of a section of Interstate 91 in Hartford’s South End near the junction with I-84.

“I’ve tried everything I could to get the legislators willing to step up and cast a tough vote. They don’t always like a tough vote.”

Developer Charney Talks Affordable Housing and Being Persistent

By James Lomuscio

Developer Felix Charney said today that he expects Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) to deny his application to build a 187-unit rental complex in Saugatuck when the commission meets Thursday, May 23.

WestportNow.com Image
Developer Felix Charney: “This is not a greed-driven endeavor ... There’s no need for rudeness and rancor.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) James Lomuscio for WestportNow.com

He also said he is going straight to court to sue the town under the state’s affordable housing statute 8-30g.

If anything, Charney, principal of Southport-based Summit Development, is persistent. The expected suit will be his eighth try since 2002 to build an affordable housing, rental complex on Hiawatha Lane in Saugatuck.

“This is not a greed-driven endeavor,” said Charney, adding that his company is doing well financially, having built 1,500 residential units and 7 million square feet since he started out in 1982. “I’m very busy. I don’t need this. This is something I believe in.”

Marathon Debate, Then House Vote for $15 Minimum Wage

By Mark Pazniokas

www.ctmirror.org

Democrats and Republicans sharply split in an overnight debate over whether raising Connecticut’s $10.10 minimum wage to $15 over four-and-a-half years would be an overdue lift to low-wage workers or an ill-considered blow to small businesses in a state that has yet to fully recover from the Great Recession of 2008.

By a vote of 85-59 today, the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives passed and sent to the Senate what would be the first minimum-wage bill passed by the General Assembly since March 2014.

It includes five raises, none exceeding $1, that would increase the hourly minimum by 90 cents to $11 on Oct. 1 and reach $15 on Oct. 15, 2023.

Over the course of a debate that limped into its 13th hour after 10 a.m., Democrats and Republicans viewed and interpreted the minimum wage from opposite sides of a wide cultural, racial, social and political gulf.

Comings & Goings: Row House Opens at Compo Acres

WestportNow.com Image
The Row House, a rowing-based fitness studio, has opened at 380 Post Road East in the Compo Acres Shopping Center. According to Rachel Keyes, general manager, Row House is open every day, offers 25 “ERGs” (indoor rowing units,) classes, memberships and welcomes walk-ins. Keyes said a grand opening celebration is planned for early June. The Row House is the first in the state and the nearest ones to Westport are in New York City. Pictured: Keyes (l) and Elana Goldblatt, coach. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

RTM Restores $115,000 to Transit District

By James Lomuscio

As Westport’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM) Monday night approved a $76,251,688 municipal budget for next year, one town department took center stage — the Westport Transit District (WTD).

In April, the Board of Finance denied the restoration of $115,000 it had cut from the WTD’s proposed $355,000 budget in an attempt to phase out its underutilized shuttle service to the town’s two train stations.

But Monday night, the shuttle service, a perennial whipping boy of the finance board, caught another reprieve from the RTM.

The legislative body restored $115,000 by a vote of 32 to 0 with 1 abstention, far more than the supermajority the RTM needed to overturn the finance board.

Lawmakers Running Out of Time to Find New Transportation Funding Plan

By Keith M. Phaneuf

www.ctmirror.org

With less than a month left until adjournment, state lawmakers are no closer — at least on paper — to charting a new course for Connecticut’s overburdened, decaying transportation system.

Though somewhat dysfunctional by design, the legislature’s latest budget proposals — which don’t feature tolls — would leave the Special Transportation Fund nearly $11.5 million in deficit by 2021, according to a new, nonpartisan analysis.

And while Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont continues to rally support for electronic tolling on the state’s major highways, Republican minorities in the House and Senate are pressing equally hard for a non-toll alternative that relies exclusively on borrowing.

“I think everybody realizes there is a level of punting that’s going on,” House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford, said today, referring to separate Democratic proposals for transportation spending and revenue adopted last week that are out of balance.

Comings & Goings: Surface to Post Road East

WestportNow.com Image
Surface, a 3,000-square foot showcase for custom fabrication stone surfaces, has opened at 1320 Post Road East in the newly constructed commercial strip that includes Kohler and Bird Salon. According to Surface lead designer Jo Ann Ceasrine, a Westport resident, the site is the first showroom for the 15-year-old business owned by Italy-born Daniel Manegta who operates The Stoneworkshop fabrication facility, 1108 Railroad Ave., Bridgeport. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

Coalition Forum Focuses on Downtown’s Retail Challenges

The retail future of downtown Westport will be the focus of a Coalition for Westport (CFW)-sponsored, public forum set for Monday, May 13, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at The Visual Brand located at 56 Church Lane, CFW officials announced.

The forum, which is open to the public, will feature three speakers with experience in regional and local retail and development trends for creating a 21st century downtown, the announcement said.

Scheduled speakers are: David Kooris, deputy commissioner of CT Economic and Community Development (DECD); Randy Herbertson, president of Westport Downtown Merchants Association; and Joseph McGee, vice president of public policy and programs for The Business Council of Fairfield County.

Coalition member Julie Belaga is set to moderate the moderate the program, which will be introduced by G. Kenneth Bernhard, CFW vice chairman.

Democrats Push Back on Lamont, Renew Bid to Tax CT’s Wealthiest Households

By Keith M. Phaneuf

www.ctmirror.org

UPDATE Gov. Ned Lamont and his fellow Democrats in the legislature appear to be headed for a showdown over taxing the rich to help solve Connecticut’s pension debt crisis.

One day after gutting a 2 percent surcharge on capital gains earnings by the wealthy, the legislature’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee was expected to revive the surcharge.

The surcharge was the centerpiece of a new revenue plan that would scale back Lamont’s efforts to broaden the sales tax, but also slow his initiative to provide property tax relief to the middle class.

The committee’s plan also would:

For Now, Legislators Defer to Lamont on Capital Gains

By Keith M. Phaneuf, Mark Pazniokas, and Kathleen Megan

www.ctmirror.org

On spending and taxes, Democratic legislators took their lead today from the more moderate fiscal positions of Gov. Ned Lamont, less a surrender to the governor than a postponement of a debate still to come.

The legislature’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee gutted a bill to boost income taxes on Connecticut’s wealthiest, siding with Lamont over progressive lawmakers. The new measure makes no change in tax rates, mandating only a study of the capital gains income of the state’s top earners.

The action in finance came as Democrats on the Appropriations Committee were explaining why tens of millions of dollars in proposed spending increases were being scrapped.

The goal, sources said, was to bring spending proposals for each of the next two fiscal years in line with the total amounts the Democratic governor offered in February.