Christine Stuart photo

Democratic lawmakers unveiled a package Monday that they said would change the way “we do government here in Connecticut.”

The proposal, which includes 11 separate pieces of legislation, takes aim at getting cities and towns to work together on a regional basis.

“We inherently have an inefficient system in Connecticut of local government where we duplicate services and programs on a town-by-town basis, 169 times over,” Rep. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said. Secondly “the overall cost of government is too high and what we need to be doing, particularly in this day and age, is to try to find ways of shrinking that pie.”

As an incentive to get cities and towns to cooperate on a regional basis, lawmakers said they would share one-sixth of the state’s 6 percent sales tax with participating municipalities.

The sharing of sales tax revenue, however, will not be immediate since revenue from the tax is currently declining and is at least $50 million below projections for 2009.

In an effort to get municipalities to cooperate lawmakers said they would postpone some of the unfunded state mandates, such as in-school suspension.

“We’re working in the short term to offer mandate relief to cities and towns,” Sharkey said.

Republican lawmakers were invited to the press conference, but did not take Democrats up on the offer.

Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Southport, said he’s aware of the proposals, but believes the state should relieve the towns of the mandates first, instead of holding it over their heads. He said he didn’t approve of the approach, since many of these municipalities are already cooperating with each other on things like purchasing.

“We are showing a good faith effort by talking about mandate relief,” Sharkey said. “We can talk about balancing the state budget all we want, but if we are just balancing the state budget off the backs of local government that is not a solution.”

Sharkey said the towns have participated heavily in developing these proposals over the last year. “There’s a real commitment on the part of our leadership to make this happen,” he said.

“We’ve been talking about this forever,” Majority Leader Denise Merrill, D-Mansfield, said. “It’s finally time where maybe we can take some action on this.”

She said the package of legislation which is expected to be raised by the Planning and Development Committee Monday afternoon will be able to stop the sprawl in the state.

Sen. Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said maybe your eyes glaze over a little bit when you talk about smart growth and regional cooperation, “but we are talking about nothing less than the heritage and the character and the future of our state. That’s what we’re talking about preserving here.”

“If folks want Connecticut to look like any other part of the country driving down a never ending commercial byway filled with anonymous big box and corporate stores and restaurants that tell us nothing about where we have been as a state and a people,” he said. “If that’s what we want then let’s just keep the existing system.”

The 11 pieces of legislation include:

An Act Concerning Regionalism

An Act Concerning Regional Planning Agencies and Regional Planning Organizations

An Act Concerning Smart Growth and Plans of Conservation and Development

An Act Concerning Smart Growth and State Planning

An Act Concerning Training for Local Land Use Commissions

An Act Concerning Land Use Appeals

An Act Concerning Projects of Regional Significance

An Act Concerning Coordinated Preservation and Redevelopment

An Act Concerning Brownfield Redevelopment

An Act Concerning Smart Growth Zoning Regulations

An Act Concerning Smart Growth and Transportation Planning