(Updated 12:51 a.m.) Unable to get the Senate to take up his property tax bill, House Speaker Brendan Sharkey was forced Wednesday to settle for a further compromise that would force nonprofit colleges and universities to pay taxes on new buildings for student housing. But when the smoke cleared, the Senate refused to take up the bill.
Sharkey’s original bill would have forced colleges and hospitals to negotiate their property tax bills with their host communities and the state would no longer have to pay those municipalities a percent of the property taxes they would have received from these entities. A compromise approved Saturday would have seen tax-exempt institutions like colleges and hospitals paying local property taxes on only new properties they purchase after July 1. The newest iteration didn’t apply to hospitals.
The House approved the new language 140-4. It was sent back to the Senate where it failed to get called for a vote.
The bill highlighted the tension between Sharkey and Sen. President Donald Williams. The conflict between the two appears to have started in April when Sharkey took the unusual step of suspending his chamber’s rules in order to quickly raise and publicly kill Williams’ top legislative priority.
Williams’ bill would have banned genetically modified grass seed before it ever comes on the market in Connecticut.
Outgoing Sen. Ed Meyer reflected on the incident Wednesday as he and others in the Senate were saying goodbye to Williams.
“[Sharkey] kind of dissed us and particularly dissed our Senate leader,” he said.
Meyer said a group of senators believed Sharkey’s bill to be “bad policy” and the wrong direction to for Connecticut. He said senators privately debated whether to raise and kill Sharkey’s priority bill. Meyer said Williams wouldn’t have it, and insisted “that’s not the direction we’re going to go.”
But Sharkey said that’s not his understanding of what happened.
“His comments are unfortunate, but they’re also misplaced,” Sharkey said.
“I had every assurance from Sen. Williams and Sen. [Martin] Looney that they actively encouraged their members to support my bill,” Sharkey said. “Perhaps Sen. Meyer is indicating something that didn’t happen.”
Sharkey insisted that something needs to be done about the property tax system. “We have to do something for the property taxpayers of our state,” Sharkey said.
As far as promises made, Sharkey said he worked hard to get Williams’ other priority, a preschool bill, passed in the House.
“I worked in ways you don’t even want to know to get that through my caucus,” Sharkey said. “I worked it very hard on his behalf and I got him that vote.”
He said there was an understanding that he would deliver on the preschool bill and Williams was supposed to deliver on the Sharkey’s bill.
Sharkey said the preschool bill, which passed by just nine votes in the House, weren’t there. He said he worked to get them there.
After midnight, Williams said his caucus “rejected” Sharkey’s bill. “Folks did not want to talk about taxing nonprofits without a fuller discussion and fuller understanding.”
As far as the horse trading for the preschool legislation, Williams said “Pre-K for children is universally accepted as something that’s very smart to do. Taxing nonprofits is a concept that was not acceptable to our caucus.”
Williams is not seeking re-election.