christine stuart / ctnewsjunkie file photo
CCM Executive Director Joe DeLong (christine stuart / ctnewsjunkie file photo)

HARTFORD, CT – Transportation infrastructure, property tax reform, binding arbitration, and a program to attack the opioid crisis are just some of the priorities for Connecticut’s largest municipal lobbying organization.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities’ legislative agenda is lengthy for a session that starts on Feb. 5 and ends on May 6.

The agenda includes some short- and long-term proposals for lawmakers.

“The short-term state legislative program for 2020, which was developed, vetted, and approved by our member town and city leaders in the final months of 2019, is focused around the notion that healthy towns and cities and regions are the key to one healthy Connecticut and its overall economic success,” said Michael Freda, first selectman of North Haven and CCM president.

Among the short-term items CCM is hoping lawmakers will tackle this year is the creation of a state ombudsman to coordinate funding to support substance abuse prevention and education. They believe the position would help combat the opioid epidemic.

In addition, they want the ability to be able to tax property owned by nonprofits currently exempt from property taxes.

Cities and towns would also like the legislature to approve a bond package so that they can get funding for local roads and construction projects.

That bond package is tied to the possible approval later this month of a 10-year, $19-billion transportation plan that includes truck-only tolls.

CCM called for a bipartisan solution, but bipartisan talks ended in November when Senate Republicans put forward their own transportation plan, FASTR CT, which didn’t include tolls.

CCM said it’s not against limited tolling.

The General Assembly is expected to vote on a transportation plan that includes truck-only tolls as soon as next week.

Those efforts, CCM states, “must identify and allocate appropriate resources which may include the establishment of limited tolling and will enable the state to leverage all available federal funding resources.”

The tolling issue continues to evolve with promises that legislation would be available for public consumption next week.

Last week, following a closed-door caucus, Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said 18 of his 22 members have “not rejected the concept of a bill to toll trucks on bridges only.”

However, their votes were contingent on certain changes being made to the draft legislation.

But Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano immediately questioned whether the votes were there to pass any tolling measures whatsoever.

Meanwhile, Gov. Ned Lamont simply wants the legislature to vote on the issue, once and for all.

CCM wants to lay the groundwork this year for more comprehensive policy changes following the 2020 election.

In its priority statement, CCM made it clear that property tax reform will also remain one of its key initiatives.

“Property tax remains the single largest tax on residents and businesses in our state. The property tax is income-blind and profit-blind. It is due and payable whether a resident has a job or not, or whether a business turns a profit or not,” CCM stated. “According to the Tax Foundation, the per-capita property tax burden in Connecticut was $2,927 in FY 16, an amount that is almost twice the national average of $1,556 – and third highest in the nation.”

CCM formed the Commission on Property Tax Reform, which will seek to develop over the next few months, CCM states, a comprehensive, grassroots-based, property tax relief initiative.

“Mayors and first selectmen know the challenges of managing a community during these tough economic times,” CCM Executive Director Joe DeLong, said. “One of those challenges is operating in a state where you have to contend with the third-highest property tax rate in the country.”

CCM is acknowledging that legislative action on the issue isn’t going to happen in the upcoming session but, DeLong added: “The Commission is expected to meet through the spring to develop recommendations. Afterward, CCM will launch an intensive grassroots campaign to inform the public of the Commission’s recommendations, to ensure that meaningful property tax reform is a major part of the 2020 General Assembly election campaign, and that real action occurs after the election.”

As far as the 2020 legislative session, CCM also is once again looking to legislators for some relief on the issue of binding arbitration.

CCM is asking the legislators to revise “the binding arbitration system to realize increased efficiencies for the benefit of employees and municipal employers by requiring binding arbitration proceedings to conclude within one year from the date at which the State Board of Mediation and Arbitration provides notice to the involved parties of pending binding arbitration proceedings.”

As far as schools are concerned, cities and towns want more predictability.

They want special education funding to follow the student until the end of the fiscal year when a student changes schools mid-year. They also want to see some changes to regional school districts.

CCM is asking for the ability to establish a regional board of finance to provide oversight to a regional board of education.

“Such regional boards of finance shall have the same authorities as a local board of finance and shall be comprised of representative membership identical to the regional board of education in the regional school district in which they are located,” CCM proposed.

They also want boards of education to be able to develop a “contingency” line item in their budget for unanticipated expenditures.