This article was produced through a partnership between ProPublica and the Connecticut Mirror, which is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network. The following version is text only. For the full article with pictures, go to www.ctmirror.org.
Westport — A dirt field overgrown with weeds is the incongruous entrance to one of America’s wealthiest towns, a short walk to a Rodeo Drive-like stretch replete with upscale stores such as Tiffany & Co.
The lead photograph on the CTMirror story on affordable housing focused on Westport. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) From CTMirror.org
But this sad patch of land is also the physical manifestation of a broader turf war over what type of housing — and ultimately what type of people — to allow within Westport’s borders.
It started when a developer known for building large luxury homes envisioned something different back in 2014 for the 2.2 acre property: a mix of single- and multifamily housing that would accommodate up to 12 families. A higher density project is more cost efficient, he said, and would allow him to sell the units for less than the typical Westport home.
But the site was zoned to hold no more than four single-family houses, so he needed approval from a reluctant Westport Planning and Zoning Commission, which denied his plan. Residents erupted in fury each time he made a scaled-back proposal, and it took the developer four years after purchasing the property to win approval to build two duplexes and five single-family homes.
Gov. Ned Lamont conceded today that the 2019 session of the General Assembly will end June 5 without a vote on highway tolls.
He said he was recasting his focus for the final weeks to delivering a budget that will provide a reliable fiscal blueprint for Connecticut for the next two years.
“My first priority is to get an honestly balanced budget done on time,” Lamont said. “That was a promise I made during that campaign. I heard from every superintendent of schools and mayors. ‘Even if I don’t get all the money I want, get it to me on time, so I can plan accordingly.’”
Lamont made his comments a day after meeting with legislative leaders, when it became clear to administration officials that a special session would offer the governor his best chance of convincing the General Assembly to accept a comprehensive system of highway tolls as the most reliable way finance overdue improvements to the state’s transportation infrastructure.
Bistro du Soleil, 615 Riverside Ave., tonight hosted the opening reception for a 22-piece art exhibit, “What A Wonderful World” by 14-year Westport resident, Sandra Farley Aldrich. She is pictured with her grandson, state Sen. Will Haskell, in front of “House by the Sea,” one of Aldrich’s works on display until mid- June. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com
Connecticut’s minimum-wage workers will see their hourly wages rise from $10.10 to $15 over the next four-and-a-half years under legislation passed early today by the Senate and sent to Gov. Ned Lamont for his promised signature.
Supporters of the minimum wage celebrate in the Senate gallery after passage at nearly 3 a.m. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Keith Phaneuf for CTMirror.org
The final passage by the Senate on a party-line vote of 21-14 delivers on the first of two major labor bills promised by Democrats in campaigns that won the governor’s office and produced strong legislative majorities for the party in 2018, the other being a paid family and medical leave bill that is tentatively scheduled for a vote next week.
“All these combined are going to make a huge difference in people’s lives,” said Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, who unseated a conservative Republican last year. She led the debate as the co-chair of the Labor and Public Employees Committee.
As was the case last week in an overnight debate in the House, the parties sharply split over whether the raises will provide an overdue boost to 332,000 low-wage workers or another blow to small businesses in a state with a weak economy. The senators also debated overnight, beginning at 8:22 p.m. Thursday and finishing more than six hours later.
With less than three weeks until the end of the 2019 legislative session, Gov. Ned Lamont’s first-year priority of returning highway tolls to Connecticut remains a work in progress, complicating efforts to corral a majority — and generating a day of political spin to odds today at the State Capitol.
Gov. Ned Lamont talks with reporters today. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Mark Pazniokas for CTMirror.org.
Republicans called a visit by Lamont to the House Democratic caucus the previous night a “desperate” bid for votes, then they abruptly revised their own tolling alternative, itself an apparent bid for votes. Lamont quickly dropped by the Capitol pressroom to say the GOP shift was why “voters are so cynical about politics and politicians.”
Of course, the governor also has given voters ample reason for cynicism. As a candidate last year, Lamont said he favored trucks-only tolling, not his current plan to impose tolls for all motor vehicles traveling on the Merritt Parkway and three interstate highways, 84, 91 and 95.
With important variables yet to be defined, passage of a tolls bill remains uncertain.
Gov. Ned Lamont simultaneously delivered an apology and pep talk to the House Democratic caucus tonight, acknowledging that his highway tolling proposal had put fellow Democrats “in a pickle,” while defending the plan as a necessary and overdue boost to Connecticut’s lagging economy.
Hands on hips, Lamont spoke for seven minutes to Democrats in their caucus room, a place typically off limits to the press and visitors. He assured them he was deeply committed to the fight for the passage of tolls — and the re-election of those who joined him. Lawmakers stood and applauded as he left without taking questions from them or the press.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, had recently suggested the visit, and with a few minutes notice to the press, Lamont and his senior staff made the walk from his corner office on the second floor of the west side of the State Capitol to the caucus room on the east side. Lamont quickly told them he was demanding a tough vote.
“I know that,” Lamont said, his voice dropping as he scanned the room. “I’m asking every one of you to cast a really difficult vote.”
Gov. Ned Lamont urged business and labor groups today to ratchet up pressure on fearful legislators to vote on his tolls proposal before the session ends on June 5.
The Democratic governor also disclosed he would support a temporary transfer of $100 million per year in bonding from other programs to transportation to accelerate construction work until toll receipts arrive in 2024.
“I have reached out to Republicans and Democrats,” Lamont said during a news conference overlooking ongoing reconstruction of a section of Interstate 91 in Hartford’s South End near the junction with I-84.
“I’ve tried everything I could to get the legislators willing to step up and cast a tough vote. They don’t always like a tough vote.”
With less than four weeks left in the legislative session, Gov. Ned Lamont made a bipartisan appeal for compromise on tolls.
The Democratic governor pledged to dedicate more resources to transportation construction between now and 2024 — the first year toll receipts might be available. This generally was recognized as one of the soft parts of Lamont’s plan.
But the governor also insisted any bargain would have to include electronic tolls, saying this was essential to provide long-term fiscal stability to a transportation program otherwise headed for insolvency.
“I am more than willing to entertain a compromise that shores up our Special Transportation Fund, provides for some short-term borrowing until the point at which tolls come online,” Lamont wrote in an open letter to the General Assembly.
Democrats and Republicans sharply split in an overnight debate over whether raising Connecticut’s $10.10 minimum wage to $15 over four-and-a-half years would be an overdue lift to low-wage workers or an ill-considered blow to small businesses in a state that has yet to fully recover from the Great Recession of 2008.
By a vote of 85-59 today, the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives passed and sent to the Senate what would be the first minimum-wage bill passed by the General Assembly since March 2014.
It includes five raises, none exceeding $1, that would increase the hourly minimum by 90 cents to $11 on Oct. 1 and reach $15 on Oct. 15, 2023.
Over the course of a debate that limped into its 13th hour after 10 a.m., Democrats and Republicans viewed and interpreted the minimum wage from opposite sides of a wide cultural, racial, social and political gulf.