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Lamont abandons New London on wind deal

No one knew, until days before Gov. Ned Lamont rammed through his secret plan to accommodate a Danish wind utility at a rebuilt State Pier, with its ballooning price tag, that the state plans to actually transfer ownership of the pier to the broken and scandal-ridden Connecticut Port Authority.

That no one included New London Mayor Michael Passero, who, even Monday, the day before Lamont's puppet port authority board banged the gavel on the pier deal with a dubious price estimate that rose more than $60 million over a few months, was still trying on his own to negotiate an accompanying host deal for his city.

I think the governor, who has incredibly signed a blank check for cost overruns on a project already estimated at $157 million and sure to soar higher, has been a patsy for the slick lawyers for the utilities. I suppose if you are going to break your debt diet, you might as well gorge.

Not only did the governor leave Mayor Passero out in the cold, with little leverage to negotiate his own host deal with the Danish wind giant, but the governor then tied one of the mayor's hands behind his back.

In 2003, Gov. John Rowland signed into law legislation that makes property owned by quasi-public agencies like the Connecticut Port Authority subject to municipal taxation. One exemption would be municipalities that have a payment in lieu of taxes deal with the quasi-public agency or its agents.

That means the host deal that the mayor was made to hustle to put together Monday, which he still hadn't signed Thursday, would trigger the exemption from the statute that lets the city tax the property.

So Gov. Lamont, by withholding from the public and the mayor the state's plans to transfer ownership of the pier to the port authority, narrowed the mayor's options while he was negotiating with the wind companies.

The governor left the mayor with one less negotiating arrow in his quiver. The governor shamefully sided with the rich Danish wind conglomerate, giving them a heads-up in the talks — they certainly knew the land would be transferred — by keeping the city in the dark so long.

I admit there could be risks for the city in planning a tax strategy around an obscure statute and an uncertain land transfer, as opposed to the signed host deal the mayor is working toward. But at the very least that statute should have given the city much more bargaining power — taxes even on a $150 million project would be enormous — and the mayor should have been told much sooner the land was being transferred.

Spokespersons for Gov. Lamont and Attorney General William Tong, who must sign off on the pier land transfer, did not respond to emails Wednesday asking about whether the city can tax the land once it is owned by the port authority.

I don't take personal offense — I have not been sparing in criticism of both politicians — but the silence does seem like an affront to New London residents, to not respond to the simple question.

I'm pretty sure I'm not among Mayor Passero's favorite journalists, but he did generously take time Thursday to chat about what seems to me has been an agonizing process for him, to get New London, which bears so much responsibility for regional social and civic services, some semblance of a fair share in this deal.

The still-unsigned host deal, with shorthand, generally gets the city about $1.3 million a year for 10 years, with the annual state payment in lieu of taxes or pilot funds and previous commitments from the port authority factored in. The utilities' share would be $750,000 the first two years and $500,000 in later years.

There are also sweeteners, if you are a gambler, with the city getting as much as double the amount from the utilities if they get new wind contracts from the state. The main deal also throws the city a bone, 25 percent of a $10 million bonus to the state, if the work is finished on time. Craps, anyone?

I understand the mayor's inclination to sign the deal, a bird in the hand, instead of the uncertainty of planning to tax the whole project. The new revenue could match what the tax value of the state-owned, unimproved pier property could have been taxed at all these years. Real and fair taxes on an improved pier, though, could pay an awful lot more and solve a lot of city problems for a long time.

I distrust all the secret backroom dealing. Even as the governor was preparing to celebrate the approval of the pier deal Tuesday afternoon with a news conference, the Senate minority leader still didn't have a copy of it, an open-ended agreement binding the state to unknown spiraling costs going up in increments of tens of millions of dollars.

The governor is planning to host a hugely profitable commercial business, with guaranteed electric rates, in New London and the enterprise ought to be taxed like every other American business.

The governor should have protected the taxpaying citizens of New London and not the rich investors who will make so much money off Connecticut electric customers from offshore wind.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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