House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz of Berlin and Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney of New Haven said Tuesday that each has convinced the other they have the votes necessary to pass legislation next week authorizing tractor trailer tolls on a dozen highway bridges. But there’s a significant complication.
The Democratic leaders still have to convince their rank-and-file that the other chamber’s count can be trusted. And that is leading to the possibility of the House and Senate acting simultaneously — an unprecedented scheme immediately denounced by Republican minority leaders as a mockery of parliamentary process, legislative history and common sense.
“It is the intent to bring it up at the same time,” Aresimowicz said.
Looney acknowledged hours later in a separate interview that synchronized debating and voting indeed was under consideration, though it was not his preference.
Nor would it be easy to achieve.
As a matter of legislative procedure (as well as physics), the same bill cannot be before two chambers at the same time. The workaround would be each chamber debating and voting on identical bills. To become law, one would have to be passed eventually by both chambers.
“Only one chamber would have to vote twice,” Looney said.
And that, say Republicans, would be a sophomoric solution to satisfy unnamed House and Senate Democrats, each willing to vote for tolls only if final passage is guaranteed and each saying to each other: “You go first.”“Think about the silliness of this — foot dragging until one chamber catches up to the other?” said Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano of North Haven. “If that doesn’t speak volumes in this building, then nothing else does. That’s just silly. It’s lunacy. It’s absurd. It’s laughable.”
How both chambers could simultaneously vote was unclear.
Each chamber has the custom of unlimited debate, and Republicans have more than a little to say about how long a debate might run. Theoretically, Looney said, the chamber that finished its debate first could leave the voting machine open until the other was ready.
It’s never been done.
“The institution matters more than any governor, than any legislator or any bill and when you bastardize the institution, you can’t repair it. And that comes first,” Fasano said.
“That is disgusting, quite honestly,” said House Minority Leader Themis Klarides of Derby.
The Connecticut General Assembly has managed in the past to take controversial votes without a guarantee of what the other chamber might do, such as passing an income tax and repealing the death penalty. So, what is so difficult about a bill that would authorize a dozen tolls on tractor trailers?
“I don’t know if it’s the issue itself, but rather this mischaracterization of what the bill actually does,” Aresimowicz said. “That frustrates Marty and I.”In February, Gov. Ned Lamont proposed a comprehensive system of tolls on cars and trucks at more than 50 locations on Interstates 84, 91 and 94, as well as the Merritt and Wilbur Cross parkways. It would have raised as much as $800 million annually.
When lawmakers refused to bring the measure to a vote, the administration countered with a downsized version of tolls on cars and trucks on 13 bridges. Legislative leaders could not find the votes for passage, leading to the current version of tolling only tractor trailers, raising about $175 million a year.
Opponents say that the measure would be a first step to a broader system involving car tolls but can’t quite explain how something so politically unpopular might win passage. The bill before the legislature would not allow car tolls without the passage of another law explicitly permitting them.
Aresimowicz said a synchronized vote “doesn’t allow the folks that are organizing against the issue to play one chamber off against the other.”
Looney said Aresimowicz called him Monday night to say he had confirmed the availability next week of at least 76 House Democrats in favor of the transportation bill, the minimum necessary for passage. Democrats hold a 91-60 majority in the House.
The vote would take place on the 18th, 19th or 20th, though a public hearing has been scheduled for the 19th on a controversial bill to repeal the religious exemption for school-age vaccination.
Lamont said earlier Tuesday, before Aresimowicz and Looney spoke about the potential need for a synchronized vote, that he was pleased a vote may be imminent. The governor spoke at a press conference announcing the availability of CTrail exit, a mobile app allowing the online purchase of train tickets on the Hartford Line and Shoreline East.
”The Senate’s been clear. They’ve got their list. They’ve shared their lists. They know who the votes are. The houses are ready to go. They’re both ready to vote,” Lamont said. “I think right now, they are doing the Kabuki dance — what’s the exact day and the order that people go. I think it’s going to happen next week.”
Hartford — The board of the Connecticut Port Authority unanimously has approved a $157 million dollar redevelopment plan to transform State Pier into a staging area for the offshore wind industry.
The vote took place at a special meeting Tuesday. At a news conference later in the day, Gov. Ned Lamont and the principals involved in negotiating the public-private redevelopment said it sets up New London and the state of Connecticut as key players in the burgeoning offshore wind industry in the Northeast and would help the state achieve its renewable energy goals.
“Connecticut can be the Saudi Arabia of wind power,” Lamont said.
The governor and the others, touting that the deal was “finally” done, acknowledged that it took longer than expected, given the number of parties involved, including state, local and private entities, the scope of the project and, though not explicitly mentioned, the mismanagement and spending issues that have plagued the port authority.
The plan, which has been negotiated for 18 months by the port authority, port operator Gateway, offshore wind developers Ørsted and Eversource and more recently the state, involves redeveloping State Pier to handle heavy-lift cargo, including docking a large vessel, used to transport offshore wind components to the lease areas, on the eastern side of the pier. The plan also calls for filling in the area between the two existing piers to create additional storage space and will result in three berths.
The parties involved in the State Pier deal are working with Genesee & Wyoming, which owns the rail line that connects to the pier, to acquire a piece of the company’s land that is currently northeast of the property for additional space for the wind turbine assembly.
Construction is expected to start in early 2021 and be completed by August 2022.
Tuesday’s vote cements a new host agreement with Ørsted/Eversource that will secure a minimum average of $1.3 million a year to the city of New London over the next 10 years, New London Mayor Michael Passero said.
Passero said an agreement finalized on Monday extends and broadens terms of an existing two-year, $750,000-a-year agreement and opens the door to an additional $250,000 to $750,000 a year in additional revenues based on construction completion bonuses and ability of Ørsted to secure future agreements with the state for offshore wind power.
The minimum of $750,000 per year is in addition to the $250,000 New London gets through a combination of funds from the state Payment in Lieu of Taxes program, the $75,000 yearly impact fee from Gateway and at least a $50,000-a-year share of the port authority’s revenue from pier operations.
Passero said the host agreement, which has yet to be signed, brings the city as close as ever to recouping what he considers to be taxes lost because of the state’s decision to not fairly compensate the city.
“This was my goal all along,” Passero said. “It’s a good win for the city. The taxpayers of New London have been cheated out of taxes from a commercial asset. The taxpayers should be compensated for that.”
At the start of Tuesday’s board meeting, port authority critic Kevin Blacker, who has expressed concern over the State Pier deal being negotiated in secret, said he would not leave until he was arrested and in handcuffs. Port Authority board Chairman David Kooris attempted to continue with the meeting, and started to conduct a roll call before asking that Blacker be removed from the meeting.
Kooris said much of the plan approved Tuesday remains consistent with what has been presented publicly at the agency’s board meetings — even though the board frequently went into executive session to discuss the details — and at an informational forum in September to solicit public feedback on the proposed redevelopment.
“We are confident that the facility with these adjustments in response to the comments that we’ve heard from the public and from key stakeholders is a better facility for us and for the taxpayers of the state of Connecticut now and in the long term,” Kooris said.
The most fundamental change from what was presented in September, Kooris said, is the relocation of the large offshore wind vessel from the southern side of the pier to the eastern side to avoid disruption to Cross Sound Ferry’s operations. That increases the cost of the project by $44 million. The project was initially estimated to cost $93 million.
Ørsted and Eversource will contribute $77.5 million to the project, while the state and the port authority will fund the remainder, with $25.5 million in already approved bond money and additional bond funding. The port authority and state will be on the hook for any cost overruns.
The plan will involve Ørsted and Eversource subleasing State Pier from Gateway for a minimum of 10 years to use the facility for the pre-assembly of wind turbine generators, with the option to extend the lease for seven years. The companies will pay the port authority $20 million in rent over that 10-year period. When not used by the companies, the facility can be subleased to other customers, including other offshore wind developers, per the agreement between the various negotiators.
Ørsted and Eversource will use State Pier as part of its 704 megawatt offshore wind farm, Revolution Wind, which is expected to be operational in 2023, as well as other projects in the Northeast. They also have two projects in the works to supply about 1,000 megawatts of power to New York.
The companies own three federal offshore lease areas south of Martha’s Vineyard, covering approximately 600 square miles, with the potential for at least 4,000 megawatts of offshore wind power. That includes the 704 megawatts from Revolution Wind, which will supply 300 megawatts of power to Connecticut with the remainder going to Rhode Island.
Thomas Brostrøm, CEO of Ørsted U.S. Offshore Wind, said the State Pier plan is “one of most visionary port redevelopments in the country.”
The redevelopment will result in an estimated 460 construction jobs. Once the pier is operational again, about 400 jobs are expected during construction campaigns. Those jobs fall into two broad categories: those who load and unload the vessels, and wind turbine technicians. Matt Satnick, CO/CEO of Enstructure, Gateway’s parent company, said Gateway will help to train and develop the workers at the pier to support the offshore wind industry.
The port authority’s board on Tuesday also approved a resolution allowing the quasi-public agency to take ownership of the facility from the state Department of Transportation. The port authority has control of the facility per an earlier memorandum of understanding with DOT. Kooris said ownership is necessary so that the port authority can be directly involved in the sublease with Ørsted and Eversource. The transfer of ownership also must be approved by the State Properties Review Board and the state treasurer.
Citing problems at the port authority and CT Lottery Corp., Senate Republicans unveiled a package of legislative proposals Tuesday to “increase transparency and oversight at Connecticut's quasi-public agencies.” Republicans also called on state leaders to stop creating and funding new quasi-public agencies until these protections are approved and enacted.
"Our proposals will overhaul the oversight of state quasi-publics and turn over a new leaf when it comes to transparency and accountability," Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said in a statement.
"For years Republicans have proposed policies to stop quasi-publics from engaging in questionable behavior and mismanagement of taxpayers dollars. Unfortunately, past administrations have turned a blind eye to these problems, allowing new quasi-publics to be formed without proper oversight, controls or transparency. With the most recent scandals at the CT Port Authority and CT Lottery Corporation, these issues can no longer be ignored by those in charge.”
Lamont signs New London harbor deal as quasi-public debate heats up
Keith M. Phaneuf
While Gov. Ned Lamont announced a landmark deal Tuesday to develop New London harbor and an offshore wind center, the partisan battle over Connecticut’s quasi-publics — including the entity overseeing this project — intensified.
Lamont announced Eversource and its Denmark-based partner, Ørsted North America, will transform New London into the green energy capital of the Northeast as part of a deal unanimously ratified by the Connecticut Port Authority’s oversight board.
A few hours earlier, though, Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, charged Lamont should have fully disclosed the deal before ratification, given the port authority scandals that dominated headlines in 2018 and 2019.
Fasano, who also criticized the Democratic governor last Friday for proposing $45 million to launch another development authority supported by an ally in the tolls debate, called Tuesday for a voluntary moratorium on funding increases for all quasi-public entities.
“Economic growth has remained a top priority throughout my administration, and this agreement paves the way for a surge in activity in New London and eastern Connecticut that will cement the state’s position as a leader in the industry,” said Lamont, who signed the new development deal Tuesday.
“This is what places all over the world are trying to figure out how to do,” said port authority Chairman David Kooris. The authority will oversee the project, which is expected to be completed by August 2022, and could create 400 jobs and generate as much as 4,000 megawatt hours of electricity once fully developed man years from now.
Ørsted North America — an international pioneer in offshore wind projects — and Eversource will work with Gateway Terminal, which operates state pier in New London, to remake it into a heavy-lift capable port that can accommodate wind generation equipment and other related cargo.
This venture, which Lamont insists is vital for Connecticut’s energy and economic futures, is one of the reasons the governor ordered wholesale changes to the port authority shortly after he took office in 2019.
State Auditors John Geragosian and Robert Kane reported last year that port authority officials spent thousands of dollars on expensive meals and liquor, incurred excessive legal fees and generally acted without clear policies governing purchases, personnel matters and ethics.
The auditors complained repeatedly about a lack of management oversight, saying the port authority’s board and executive director had failed to establish policies to govern various operations.
Lamont, who inherited the mess, had reached similar conclusions.
The governor named Kooris as new port authority chairman, wrote new rules and procedures, and canceled debit cards.
But Fasano said the governor should have gone farther.
The administration notified legislative leaders via email Saturday that a deal would be completed on Tuesday, and provided them Monday evening with a written summary.
Given the authority’s past, the administration should have released the full agreement, not just a summary, and opened it to legislative and public scrutiny before signing off, Fasano said.
Execution and oversight of contracts is an Executive Branch function and Lamont and his administration countered they went above and beyond to keep lawmakers in the loop.“Too rushed?” Lamont asked rhetorically. “I’m just the opposite. What the heck took so long?”
There have been discussions in Connecticut about harnessing wind power since the 1960s, the governor added. “I don’t want to wait any longer,” he said. “I don’t need any more studies.”
But Fasano said Connecticut’s problems with quasi-public entities goes beyond just the port authority.
Though called “quasi-public,” they still are public entities created by the legislature. The term “quasi-public” stems from the fact that certain agencies have functions similar to the private sector, but doesn’t mean they actually are exempt from public ethics and disclosure rules, or from government oversight.
“For years Republicans have proposed policies to stop quasi-publics from engaging in questionable behavior and mismanagement of taxpayers dollars,” Fasano said. “Unfortunately, past administrations have turned a blind eye to these problems, allowing new quasi-publics to be formed without proper oversight, controls or transparency. With the most recent scandals at the CT Port Authority and CT Lottery Corporation, these issues can no longer be ignored by those in charge.”
The former vice president of the lottery corporation, Chelsea Turner, is suing lottery President Gregory Smith for unspecified damages. Turner was suspended last July after disclosing she had reported suspicions of wrongdoing at the lottery in 2014 to the FBI.
Senate Republicans proposed several changes Tuesday to improve regulation and monitoring of all quasi-public entities including:
- Requiring all separation agreements between quasi-publics and their employees, if they involve an annual cost of $50,000 or more or a duration of greater than five years, to be sent to the attorney general for review.
- Eliminating an exemption within the state ethics code for quasi-publics that allows them to enter into contracts with immediate family members of quasi-public staff.
- Mandating all entities submit their salaries for review annually to the comptroller’s office, the legislative committee with jurisdiction over that respective entity, and the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis.
- Blocking any proposed salary greater than $200,000 for quasi-public staff, or any pay increase greater than 5%, without prior review by lawmakers.
- Requiring all quasi-publics to report annually to legislative committees, to attend at least one committee meeting to answer questions, and to submit core financial data yearly to the comptroller for review.
- Requiring that at least one representative of the governor’s budget office serve on the finance committee of each quasi-public entity’s oversight board.
“We believe that leadership needs to be intrusive,” Fasano said, paraphrasing a quote last summer from Lamont, who also called for much stronger oversight of quasi-publics as the Connecticut Port Authority scandal dominated the headlines.Sometimes intrusive leadership is required to make sure that happens, and now is one of those times,” Lamont wrote in a July 30 press release.Both Fasano and Lamont said quasi-publics have a positive role to play in state government, provided there is sufficient oversight.
Paul Mounds, Lamont’s chief operating officer, said the current administration is providing that oversight in a way few other administrations can match.
Mounds said his office meets monthly with all quasi-public agencies to review their respective missions and their progress, as well as conformity to the overall direction required by the governor.
Lamont’s budget office also provides monthly reviews of quasi-public finances, administration officials said.
All contracts and salaries are posted on the state’s online fiscal transparency website, Mounds added.
“The quasis give us room to put together partnerships like this,” Lamont said, referring to the venture between Eversource, Ørsted North America and the state. “The quasis are innovative and nimble in terms of what we’ve got to do.”
$108 million New London High School construction project nears start
New London — Construction is expected to begin this year on the largest and most complicated phase of a long-delayed $108 million project to reconstruct and expand New London High School.
Work at the so-called north campus, which eventually will be home to three magnet schools, could start as early as May if the current timeline holds. It is the first of a two-part, nearly $160 million overall public magnet school project that also involves an overhaul of Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School.
A team of school and city officials led by a project manager from the Capitol Region Education Council spent two days in meetings last week poring over construction documents with representatives from the state Department of Administrative Service’s Division of School Construction and Review.
The expected outcome, said CREC’s Senior Project Manager Diana McNeil, is an approval from the state that allows the city to move forward and put the north campus project out to bid. A letter of approval is expected to come within the next week.
A shovel in the ground for the “renovate as new” project would be a major milestone for a project whose funding — a total of $168 million — was first approved by voters in 2014. The state is reimbursing the city 80 percent of the costs of most of the project and 95 percent of a $10 million portion added last year.
Work on the north campus technically began on a running track rehab project and continued last year with hazmat cleanup, but McNeil said the upcoming work is the real heart of the work and a “big deal.”
The project will increase the footprint of the new facility, which includes the adjacent Science and Technology High School of Southeastern Connecticut, from 173,900 square feet to 290,765 square feet. The project timeline puts the completion date in the fall of 2023.
The newer STEM Magnet High School, which opened in 2006, will remain virtually untouched during construction.
Construction will continue while classes are in session over the next several years. McNeil said it complicates the project but plans are in place to mitigate as much as possible the disruptions to students.
There is no swing space to move students off campus, so the work will include construction of walls to block off portions of the building. McNeil said an addition will be one of the first projects, a move that will create more space to move students into while construction crews tackle older parts of the school.
Three entities contracted by the city for the work include architectural firm Antinozzi Associates; Newfield + Downes, the construction manager; and CREC, which oversees the entire project.
Bryan Doughty, a member of the Board of Education and School Building and Maintenance Committee, who has at times expressed frustration over the slow progress of the north campus project, said the progression to this stage is good news. “It’s exciting. We’re further along than we’ve ever been in the process,” he said. “It’s been a struggle. I just want to make sure the project continues to move along.”
Plans and programing for the two schools have changed dramatically over the years and had at one point included a $31 million downtown arts campus at the Garde Arts Center.
Planning was underway for two sixth- through 12th-grade schools and four magnet pathways when the state issued a directive in 2018 — a year after construction was planned to start — that eliminated one of the pathways. The schools will now have three: science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM; international studies, and arts. The district is seeking to have an International Baccalaureate program as part of its international studies magnet pathway.
The sixth- through 12th-grade model also changed to a plan that more closely resembles a typical middle school and high school. The exception is the arts pathway, which will be completely contained at the north campus.
It was only after the state settled on the specs for the schools that McNeil said the project team was able to start the final design. All other designs to that point mostly were scrapped and McNeil said the new design was completed in 14 months, a feat for a project of this size.
“We’ve had some serious changes on the project,” he said, referring to the school design as a “moving target.”
Stamford planning board sets $48 million capital budget