New London: Poor city, rich port

One enduring rich behemoth created by Gov. Dannel Malloy is the Connecticut Port Authority, an entity the state lived without until 2014.

In short order, the authority has become awash in borrowed state bond money and is aligning deals to bring in many millions more.

The port authority, in expressing interest in September in buying a Crystal Avenue parcel from the City of New London, suggested in a letter laying out its qualifications that it is indeed loaded.

"CPA presently has statutory bond authorization in unallocated funds in the amount of $6,750,000. (Authorizing) language provides the CPA with the ability to fund improvements to ports, harbors and marinas," the authority said in its letter to city officials.

"The CPA can fund and implement maritime strategy by investing in projects, programs, create intermodal options, leverage emerging opportunities, such as the Crystal Avenue Redevelopment Project."

Oh, the things you can do when you're rich with taxpayer money and you don't have to worry about the mundane, like picking up trash, plowing the streets and educating the children.

I shared New London Mayor Michael Passero's umbrage this week when the port authority announced it had made a deal for the operation of State Pier in New London without cutting the city in.

The deal, naturally, is lucrative for the port authority, which will get a half a million dollars annually from the new port operator, with an increase of $250,000 every five years through the 20-year contract.

In addition, the authority, which, remember, has no children to educate or snow plows to repair, will rake in 7 percent of the New London port operator's annual revenues, with a guarantee of at least an additional $500,000. It will also get paid unspecified dockage and wharfage fees.

Wow. That's a lot of money for an oversight agency the state lived without, before Gov. Malloy came along.

New London, on the other hand, gets almost nothing from State Pier, the only one like it in Connecticut. Other ports have privately owned facilities that pay taxes.

Mayor Passero is right to cry foul at this injustice, one more glaring example of the way that the poor city must shoulder so much responsibility of hosting state and regional facilities without adequate compensation.

The mayor has suggested the city deserves full tax payments for the money-making commercial enterprise the state is running in New London Harbor. Under current law, the city gets only payments in lieu of taxes for State Pier, a fraction of what a full tax payment would be.

The state paid a measly $164,750 last year in payments in lieu of taxes for the State Pier parcels, which have an assessed value of $29.9 million.

I wouldn't veto the mayor's demand for the state to pay normal taxes on the state's commercial enterprise. And yet I think another fair contribution might be a substantial share of that 7 percent revenue from the port operator.

A cut of the business would especially help the city ramp up what it will be required to provide, on its roads and with its emergency services, in the event the city port does indeed become a hub for East Coast offshore wind development.

That's a winning formula, to enable the city to share in that success and growth, as it meets the needs of an expanding commercial enterprise on its waterfront.

The solution to this, of course, lies not with the port authority, which has no incentive to relinquish any of the booty that Gov. Malloy bestowed upon his new creature, but instead with the new governor and legislature.

I would suggest that resigning state Rep. Chris Soto, in his shiny new $100,000-a-year job as Gov. Ned Lamont's new legislative affairs director, could instantly make himself a hero in New London if he helps brings home a big hunk of the new port bacon.

And shouldn't it be a big issue in what is shaping up as a crowded special election to fill Soto's seat. Shouldn't every candidate in the 39th District race be asked to make the pledge: Share the Port Wealth.

How about Share the Port Wealth bumper stickers all around New London? Maybe the next time Gov. Lamont comes to town he should look out at a sea of waving signs: Share the Port Wealth. Is it too late for a sign-waving delegation to show up at his inaugural parade?

This should be an easy sell in Hartford. I can't think of another place where the state is hosting a big industrial commercial enterprise that requires lots of municipal services but pays no taxes. It's a unique situation and doesn't open the door to other municipalities who could claim equal treatment.

It's essentially new revenue, and I can't think of any good reasons why all of it should go to Malloy's baby and none to the city that deserves to share in the wealth of its natural resources.

The time has come to Share the Port Wealth.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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