The Malloy administration says it pulled the $300,000 it planned to give the New Haven People’s Center from the state Bond Commission agenda Friday because the project was not ready to go forward, but the last minute maneuver didn’t sit well with the two Republicans on the commission.
Republican Rep. Sean Williams of Watertown questioned why the state would be giving an organization $300,000 when the organization hasn’t filed a 990 form with the Internal Revenue Service since 1999.
Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes said the organization is in compliance with the IRS and has filed exemptions for the past 12 years. He said they haven’t had to report anything because they never received more than $50,000 in any given year.
“That’s not relevant to our decision to postpone action,” Barnes said.
Williams pointed out that a woman from Wethersfield emailed the Bond Commission on Tuesday to let them know two board members of Progressive Education and Research Associates, the nonprofit organization which runs the New Haven People’s Center, are members of the Communist Party USA.
Alfred Marder and Joelle Fishman are both on the board of the all-volunteer Progressive Education and Research Associates, the organization which runs the center. They are also both associated with Communist Party USA.
Williams asked if that had anything to do with the administration’s decision to pull the item from Friday’s agenda.
“Political association is not a criteria for awarding or not awarding funding under any state program I’m aware of,” Barnes said.
He said the proponents of the project asked for the item to be pulled because the project is not ready to go forward. But that was news to the treasurer of the organization who answered the phone Friday and said he was unaware the item had been pulled.
In a phone interview Barnes said it was a lawmaker — Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven — who made the request to pull the item from the agenda.
Harp said she didn’t want to see the project get caught up in politics and figured such a worthwhile project could wait a month.
“The commitment is still there,” Harp said.
The center and the people who run it aren’t what Williams is painting them out to be, Harp and Rep. Toni Walker, also of New Haven, said Friday outside the Senate chamber.
“They’re pillars of our community and to demonize them with the word ‘communism,’ I don’t think they deserve that,” Harp said.
She described the Howe Street location as a 100-year-old building used by youth programs, the community, and it’s a site on the Connecticut Freedom Trail.
She said she understands there was an email that went out and had “Representative Williams in a tear.”
“Basically I didn’t think the publicity, which I guess it’s getting anyway, that would have been brought to it by that tear at this time is appropriate,” Harp said.
It’s a very needy community in that area and the center provides people with food, Walker said. It’s an active community center.
“We’re resurrecting the ‘50s here because they’re coming to take us over,” Walker said referring to perceptions of Communism. “Give us a break. They’re good people.”
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy referred all questions on the matter to Barnes.
Following the Bond Commission meeting, Williams said he thought it was odd for a project to make it all the way to the agenda without someone in the administration knowing everything there is to know about it.
Williams said they received the email from the woman in Wethersfield on Tuesday and for the first time since Malloy’s been governor an item was pulled from the Bond Commission agenda.
“Is that coincidence? I don’t think so,” Williams said.
The state was planning to give $300,000 to a group that has less than $50,000, Williams said, adding that he doesn’t think “there’s any way to know whether this group is going to be around in six months or a year. I don’t think their financial statements indicate they’re in a particularly strong position to be getting money from taxpayers.”
The state Bond Commission gives money to 501c3 organizations all the time. A few years ago they gave $1 million to Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network to build a new studio and on Friday they gave $600,000 to the Artists’ Collective in Hartford to renovate its building and replace its HVAC units.