Calling All Candidates–Turn Cities Into Economic Drivers? State Has No Plan

Ganim, Malloy
Ganim and Malloy old rivals. CT Mirror image.

Connecticut has no plan to transform cities into regional economic drivers. The pols in charge say they do, but it’s fallacious spin. Cities should and must be economic drivers. When that occurs everyone benefits. The evidence of urban economics for the greater good is overwhelming. Every time a city befalls trouble in Connecticut be it Bridgeport in the late 1980s, or Hartford today under Mayor Luke Bronin, state officials counter we can do more for you under the authority of a financial review board. Some extra moolah, oversight for several years. Then what? There’s no institutional plan. Sometimes it is the blind leading the blind.

It happens, a city is bleeding so badly there’s little choice. Before Bronin decided to explore a run for governor he poised his hemorrhaging city for bankruptcy. Long story short, the state obliged Bronin, creating an avenue for cities to leverage more money in exchange for a state oversight board. So if Bronin takes the full gubernatorial plunge he’s in a message web. You couldn’t fix Hartford, how ya gonna fix the state? There is a counter response. You can’t fix the state until you fix the cities. And that’s a reasonable rejoinder. But where’s the plan?

Without urban votes Dan Malloy isn’t governor. He squeaked by in 2010 and again in 2014 because of cities. More than seven years later, what’s the Malloy report card on resurrecting cities? Stamford, where he served as mayor, has done mighty fine under the list of Malloy news releases. The land mass of Stamford, its proximity, and Malloy’s familiarity encourages the former mayor’s propensity to wire everything to Stamford. It’s Pyrrhic economics. Stamford’s an easier sell? That’s a lazy way out.

Was Bridgeport a tough sell for former Governor Lowell Weicker? He used to the force of his will in the early 1990s to stimulate the city after then-Mayor Mary Moran’s bankruptcy application in 1991 was rejected by a federal judge while Bridgeport was under the thumb of a state oversight board.

During Joe Ganim’s early first tenure as mayor, Weicker built Housatonic Community College Downtown, relocated the Troop G state police barracks from tony Westport to Downtown, removed the disgusting demolition-debris blight of Mount Trashmore from the East End, purchased Beardsley Park and Zoo for $10 million, added another $10 million a year in slot revenue, made operation of the train station a state function and opened a governor’s office Downtown requiring state commissioners to meet there. With Weicker’s help during JG1, taxes did not increase for 10 straight years.

One of Malloy’s first acts as governor? He shut down the governor’s Bridgeport office. Nice way to thank the voters. Malloy’s Bridgeport myopia allows petty politics to cloud his reason. Then-Mayor Bill Finch supported Ned Lamont over Malloy in a 2010 Democratic primary. Malloy kept score. When Malloy was a young mayor and Joe Ganim a young mayor they were rivals. He’s still keeping score. Bridgeport was just good enough for Malloy to suck up when the votes were needed. Yes, he will point to some things he maneuvered for the city such as Steelpointe Harbor infrastructure, but only through supportive city political operatives prevailing on the governor to step up. And some of what he supported was an election-year boondoggle. How’s the East Side train station doing?

Malloy’s attitude? Oh, the pols are a bunch of clowns in Bridgeport, they can’t get their act together. Malloy’s myopic rationale joins the circus of inaction. Translation: let the people suffer.

So all this talk about a state oversight for cities is just short-term patchwork without a plan.

Maybe one among the logjam of gubernatorial candidates will come up with something in this election cycle.

Here’s an incentive idea to drive new business into cities: eliminate the personal income tax for anyone who lives and works in troubled cities. Now you have an incentive to pitch. How ya gonna make up for the revenue shortfall? You measure that against the people, companies, new construction, tax revenue, economic impact it creates for cities and the region by extension.

Nuts? Better than what’s coming from Malloy.

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8 comments

  1. Ganim2 has been in office for two years. He brought along some folks from the community who had helped his campaign. What positions have they held with what charges and responsibilities? When have they been evaluated and found successful in their work, especially if their work leads to a strengthening of City productivity that is sustainable? Where has he demonstrated and shared human accountability techniques in labor relations negotiations, and what are the results? If the BOE found a way to privatize collections and save funds, what activities of this type have occured on the City side? That is what successful businesses strive for….cutting expenses and generating more revenue without interrupting service delivery. Has campaigning for GOvernor in recent months provided answers for Bridgeport’s issues or kept pragmatic and systematic municipal management at bay? What has been the sound bites coming from municipal and state government about negotiating with unions? Seems to me positions used to be public and open to taxpayer comment? Time will tell.

  2. “Here’s an incentive idea to drive new business into cities: eliminate the personal income tax for anyone who lives and works in troubled cities. Now you have an incentive to pitch. How ya gonna make up for the revenue shortfall? You measure that against the people, companies, new construction, tax revenue, economic impact it creates for cities and the region by extension.”

    Nuts? Better than what’s coming from Malloy.

    Mark Boughton and Dave Walker are the only Republicans I’m aware of who have entertained the idea of eliminating the personal income tax. Still waiting for them to elaborate on such plan. The best and safe way would be to phase it out over a set time-frame. This is a $9 billion revenue cut and if I throw in the $3 billion deficit by 2021…

    If we eliminate the personal income tax for “anyone who lives and works in troubled cities,” will the state still have to provide municipal aid to those cities?

    It’s a Da(m)n Harr(d) problem to fix:

    “Five giant obligations — Medicaid, state employee pension liability, municipal aid, employee and retiree health care and bonded debt — account for just over $11.5 billion, or 61 percent of the non-transportation budget. If we cut all agency spending by 25 percent overnight, we’d save about $1.8 billion, which still wouldn’t fix the problem.”

    http://www.ctpost.com/business/danhaar/article/Dan-Haar-Large-GOP-field-forces-reform-talk-in-12511260.php

  3. Thanks for this post, Lennie.

    The recent uptick in talk about Connecticut’s cities as economic drivers is encouraging —and discouraging at the same time. It highlights in Bridgeport the lack of long-term comprehensice aspirational planning and marketing for this city. We have projects, but we have little definition of the place we plan for ourselves in the 21st Century of the Northeast, the United States, or the globe.

    Two of our neighbor states think about the challenges of their cities differently. Massachusetts for ten years has done a great deal of thinking about its “Gateway Cities,” a group of second-tier cities that resemble our small Connecticut cities more than they resemble Boston or Cambridge. There are programs for Gateway Cities, academic studies and plans for Gateway Cities, and strategic thinking about Gateway Cities, Has it transformed those cities? I think it has benefited many of them to a degree: Lowell, Fall River, Worcester, Springfield, for starters. Couldn’t organizations that have looked at policies for Massachusetts cities apply their studies to Nutmeg cities as well?

    On Wikipedia, see “Gateway Cities” at:
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massachusetts_gateway_cities

    New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo has paid a lot of attention to Buffalo, which is New York’s second-largest city and a proud Great Lakes manufacturing and transportation center. Cuomo wrangled a billion dollars for Buffalo — and that much money can make a difference.

    On Wikipedia, see “Buffalo Billion” at:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buffalo_Billion

    It’s an axiom that projects move slowly in Bridgeport. But lately, i’ve noticed some good news. Steel is finally rising out of the ground for the shoreline DockMaster Building at Steelpointe Harbor. This is the building for which ground was broken last May. There’s now three or four stories of girders and structural steel being assembled at the southern tip overlooking Bridgeport Harbor. On the West Side, there’s more activity at the giant Cherry Street Lofts than I think many people realize. Pass by it on the train and you can see, in the few seconds available while riding the elevated track beside the site, the details of interior apartments on the second or third floor.

    But the future of more housing on the books for us — projects such as the Exact Capital towers at the Majestic and Poli site downtown or the housing at Steelpointe — may be curtailed by the recent tax law enacted by Congress and hailed by President Trump. The 2017 tax act has hobbled the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, the single best tool in the past 31 year to raise private capital for mixed-use and mixed-Income housing developments in cities. I worry that just as Bridgeport works on two fairly large and new housing developments downtown, funding from LIHTC-supported investments may dry up.

    For more on housing tax credits, see:
    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/18/business/economy/tax-housing.html

    Another linchpin for city redevelopment these days is the tech sector. Connecticut has several technology support programs, but I rarely read that grants or investments are awarded here, or that we even apply to win them. Hartford, New Haven, Stamford, Norwalk, and New London seem to move ahead in tech. Bridgeport and Waterbury, perhaps not as much.

    I hope the new director of the Downtown Special Services District as well as the new incubator at the University of Bridgeport provide some impetus for more tech, creative, and small-business development downtown.

  4. Yeah, I understand cities. That’s why I enlsted the top two in our time zone.
    New York City and Boston are Bridgeport bookends. I’m operating pro-Bridgeport efforts in both places where I own digital office space.
    I’m a man of action so I’m self-funded and prepared to use the internet to prove my dedication.

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