Dealmaker Lamont? The evidence, and Mayor Passero, suggest not.
Gov. Ned Lamont likes to talk about how he is a dealmaker. It came up a couple of times Tuesday when he met remotely with the Editorial Board.
“I’ve been doing deals all my life,” said Lamont. “I usually get deals done,” he added later.
The comments came while questioning the governor about his administration’s failure to create a seat for the New London mayor’s office on the Connecticut Port Authority, and why a host community agreement has not been finalized with Mayor Michael Passero.
Lamont may have had success with making deals in the private sector, but not so as governor.
He did not get a proposal to erect tolls on state highways through the state legislature and there is still no plan to fund a transportation system that is going broke.
And while other states have online sports betting and igaming up and running, negotiations between Lamont and the state’s two tribal casinos drag on.
Granted, approving tolls is a tough political hill to take and the threat of litigation hangs over a potential deal for online betting. But this is a Democratic governor with large Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.
What should have been easy is getting New London that seat on the port authority. When Lamont came to New London two years ago, he promised it. The agreement had been negotiated by his then Chief of Staff Ryan Drajewicz, a man skilled in financial investment but not in lining up votes. Fulfilling that pledge to New London and Passero should have been a layup.
Then there is the host community agreement, or lack thereof. The Lamont administration and port authority negotiated a massive development agreement with the joint venture partnership of wind-power giant Ørsted and the New England energy company Eversource to transform State Pier into an industrial colossus supporting offshore windfarm development.
But the deal failed to include the parameters of an HCA with New London.
State Pier, state-owned and under the control of the port authority, is not subject to property taxation. Passero wants an agreement that generates about $1.3 million annually for the city, comparable to what it would get if the property were taxable. The money could come from a combination of payments from the developers, the port authority, Gateway (managers of the port) and the meager payments the state makes to municipalities in lieu of taxation — PILOT funds.
Passero has negotiated for some funding, but can't gain the guarantees he wants. Lamont said he can’t assure that a future governor and legislature won’t cut PILOT money. The Ørsted-Eversource partners say they won’t be on the hook if state aid shrinks.
The mayor appears ready to play his only cards, assigning city attorneys to question and challenge the regulatory approvals the project needs.
With all the money sloshing around to fund this massive public-private development, why can’t the great deal maker find the relatively few drops necessary to allow the mayor to declare victory in this standoff? Lamont did not have a good answer.
Meanwhile the project has grown from $93 million, to $157 million and, now, $200 million, the governor said at our meeting.
Maybe Lamont is looking for an exit.
“I find if deals don’t get done in a reasonable amount of time the deal just wasn’t meant to get done,” he said, adding, “I’m trying my best to get it over the finish line.”
Passero sounds like a negotiator with nothing to lose, a man who, if he doesn’t get his way, will fight.
Could New London be headed for a trifecta — no wind hub, no Coast Guard Museum, no Fort Trumbull development? This city makes it tough to be an optimist.
Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor.
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