Every other week, John J. Ryan, a former Republican state representative, and Hersam Acorn Newspapers editor Joshua Fisher, share their back-and-forth about news going on around the state, among other items of interest. Links to all the articles and other items mentioned in the column can be found in the Opinion section of NCAdvertiser.com.
Fisher: With Opening Day on Monday, I think we’d both rather write about baseball and how hope springs eternal than deal with crumbling integrity and stability of the once great Nutmeg State. But we don’t get paid big bucks to write about the National Pastime. We get paid very little to write about the Connecticut Pastime: bad government.
Ryan: Like the Yankees, Connecticut enters this season with a lot of nagging injuries. While it’s hard to not hear about the Bronx Bombers’ woes these days, you might have to do some legwork of your own to see what’s happening in our state capitol. (Of course, one of the purposes of this column is to shed a light on Hartford for our Fairfield County readers. That’s why when you read this online, you get the bonus of links to articles and other news of note of how Hartford is affecting us down here.)
For instance, every year politicians tell us that the state affordable housing statute, known as 8-30g, is going to be amended, or “we’re working on it.” Every year we encourage voters to look up what bills are before the legislature and how to track for them.
Fisher: And of course, every year, nothing gets done. For this is a law written for developers — not for residents. If you follow the politics of it, it comes across as something that can be achieved in the cities of Connecticut but not the towns — particularly the nearly 100% developed towns of Fairfield County. For the law calls for every municipality in the state to have at least 10% of its housing classified as affordable. For towns that don’t have that 10%, developers can overstep local zoning laws if their proposals contain at least some affordable housing units. So theoretically, a big, 20-unit housing project could be built in a residential neighborhood with single-family, one-acre zoning so long as seven of the units were to be sold or rented as state-classified “affordable.”
And if you read it, you end up scratching your head about how a town such as New Canaan or Darien (both of which are highly developed and are less than half way to that 10%) could ever get there.
This is a law that, for the most part, Republican and Democrat leaders from Fairfield County have agreed needs changing. So some might have thought there was hope with the recent appointment of Evonne Klein, the former Darien first selectman, as the state’s new housing commissioner. (See “Klein confirmed as housing commissioner,” DarienTimes.com, March 7.) Finally, some common sense from someone who has supported change to this law would come to Hartford.
Ryan: See, you can’t say that folks from the “Gold Coast” don’t get important positions in our state government! As we try to point out every year you can look up at cga.ct.gov what each committee and each legislator is doing, you can track votes and bills, and you can even read the Journal of each chamber (House or Senate) to peruse what they did every day! And you can even review the testimony of Mrs. Klein concerning her nomination. (See “Klein Testimony,” DarienTimes.com, March 21.)
Fisher: As someone who covered Mrs. Klein for more than two of her terms as first selectman, at first I thought I misread that testimony. Because when she was first selectman she consistently said the law needed to change, submitted testimony supporting that and even included a call for changes to 8-30g in the official Darien housing plan. But this month when she appeared in Hartford, she supported the law as it is and said that Darien, a town that is 98% developed, could “creatively” meet the need for 10% affordable housing. (See: “Klein supported 8-30g changes in office,” DarienTimes.com, March 22.)
I am no math major. But how could you get to 10% affordable housing without knocking down some “regular housing” or building some big housing projects?
Ryan: Of course you are ignoring the fact that Hartford “creatively” balances the budget every year.
Fisher: Time and again we have seen proof that we do not need “creative” solutions, just straightforward honest answers from elected officials.
Because of this toxic law — that forces governments to not be creative — Darien has faced a potential developer who has threatened quiet neighborhoods with housing projects for the past seven years. And while he hasn’t built so much as a front step to any new housing, he has made millions of dollars. This law is all about developers making money. Affordable housing is just a potential, hoped-for side-effect. And these sorts of threats are out there for every small town in Connecticut.
It’s too bad someone who obviously once knew and dealt directly with the basically impossible challenges of 8-30g has chosen to take a political appointment in Hartford (that pays six figures) over doing the right thing. The right thing would be using her apparent clout with the governor to change the law.
Ryan: There you go again, expecting elected officials to do the right thing. In the not so distant past, the Weicker Administration proposed that a new income tax, and casinos in Connecticut were the right thing for Connecticut’s economy. (See: “Casinos’ slots revenues plummet to historic lows,” TheDay.com, March 15.)
Currently, Gov Malloy is touting spending many millions on his First Five economic program. (See: “First Five Manufacturer Working to Save Deal,” Courant.com, March 26). A company promised millions by the state possibly doesn’t even exist anymore.
The right thing for lower Fairfield County voters (who send so many tax dollars to Hartford) would be to pay some attention to what their state government is actually doing.
John J. Ryan is of counsel to the Fairfield County law firm Russo & Assoc., and served 14 years as Darien and Rowayton’s state representative — and has been writing this column for Hersam Acorn even longer. Joshua Fisher has been an editor with Hersam Acorn Newspapers since 2003.