(UPDATED 9:30 a.m.) Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra wants the state legislature to give an estimated $426,000 in admission taxes back to the city to help it pay off $60 million in bonds for a minor league ballpark.
“This is a user tax,” Segarra said told the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee at a public hearing Monday on the bill. “Meaning only those who use the stadium by purchasing a ticket will generate revenue.”
The legislation came as a surprise to many lawmakers who were not aware the city would be coming to the state to ask for any state assistance.
But Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, said he’s not aware of anyone from the city of Hartford ever said they wouldn’t seek state assistance.
“There was no statement made by me in that regard that I would not seek state assistance. I said to the contrary,” Fonfara said. “This is no different than any other initiative we support each month on the Bond Commission.”
Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said he doesn’t recall Hartford officials saying they were going to ask for state assistance and Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Friday that no one from the city has approached his administration about this proposal.
“It’s not something I proposed,” Malloy said. “Lots of things get proposed by legislators. Lots of them never see the light of day.”
From the very beginning Malloy has refused to get involved in the decision to move the minor league ball team from New Britain where its been for the last 20 years to Hartford.
Segarra defended the city’s decision to seek the legislation Monday. In Connecticut, on the state can levy sales taxes. By state statute, municipalities do not have the authority to do so.
“I don’t see how having users pay a portion of the admission to pay for the venue as a state tax,” Segarra said. “Obviously, you have to collect it and obviously you need to return it, but the economics of it — I think this is a way of us being more self-sustainable. We didn’t ask the state for bonding money.”
Segarra said the city hasn’t requested any money from the state, but they are counting on this money from the admissions tax to make the bond payments. He said having visitors to the stadium contribute to paying off the bonds doesn’t contradict statements that there would be no state funding involved in the project.
Rent from the Hartford Yard Goats baseball team, naming rights to the stadium, parking fees, and — presumably — revenue from the admissions tax will all be used to pay off the bonds on the new stadium, Segarra said.
Fonfara wondered why there has been so much attention paid to the Hartford baseball stadium when there was little attention paid to the construction of West Farms Mall in Farmington and Buckland Mall in Manchester, which put the nail in the coffin for downtown Hartford retail.
“No other venue in Connecticut gets to benefit from the taxes collected on admissions,” Fasano has said. “Why should this ballpark receive special treatment? The decision to move the Rock Cats from one city to another was made by the team owners, not by taxpayers. Connecticut families should not be held responsible for paying for any part of this move.”
Fasano testified Monday that if the state collected and then gave back the admissions tax to the city of Hartford it would be unprecedented. He said the state has never collected taxes for other entertainment venues.
But Fonfara said it’s not unprecedented when it comes to weighing the economic benefits of development in that part of the city. He said the state has a habit of giving tax breaks to companies to move from one town to another town.
The minor league baseball team owned by the Solomon family is currently the Rock Cats of New Britain, but they are expected to open their season in April 2016 as the Hartford Yard Goats.
Fonfara said the state steps in to prevent businesses from moving out of the state and they give tax credits to companies to move from town to town in the state. He rattled off a list of companies like Diageo, which received $40 million in tax credits to move from Stamford to Norwalk, and Oakley, which received $3 million to move from East Hartford to Windsor. He said ING, which had been located in Hartford, received a $9.9 million loan to move to Windsor.
“I don’t recall the outcry at that time,” Fonfara said.
State Rep. Rick Lopes, D-New Britain, said that if his city was able to get the same deal they may have been able to address some of the needs the team had about the stadium when the team was in their city.
Instead, elected officials in Hartford met privately with members of the Solomon family for months before publicly announcing their decision to build a new stadium in downtown Hartford.
Lopes said he can remember when the deal became public and the owners of the team and elected officials said they wouldn’t seek any help from the state.
“Then, voila here comes this bill, which is essentially a state subsidy for the team,” Lopes said. “Once again, a very painful thing to watch.”
He said the bill is “inconsistent, and unfair to other municipalities.”