May 23, 2007
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
Dozens of small-business owners fearing painful tax hikes brought their cause to the city's state legislators Tuesday afternoon, asking for a year or two to figure out a better way forward.
"We all want a revaluation, it's important," said Paul Mozzicato, co-owner of Mozzicato Bakery & Pastry Shop. "What we don't want, though, is to excessively burden stores and businesses that will not last in the city."
"We have a serious dilemma in the city. We want to fix it. We're here to fix it," he said.
But the small-business plea may not go far if the city's legislative delegation can't come to agreement first.
"It would be a tough sell," said Larry Perosino, a spokesman for House Speaker James Amann. "He wants the Hartford delegation to come to some sort of consensus on this...You need a unified voice from the delegation to make the case."
Mayoral candidates, state legislators, city council members, restaurateurs, bakers, auto mechanics and other business owners gathered in a room at the state Capitol on Tuesday to discuss an impending tax hike that many business owners have said could force them to shut their doors. A day earlier, the city council decided to ask the state legislature to delay revaluation for a year.
The small-business owners' situation has its roots in a battle waged a year ago that put the city's residential property owners in the same situation. As a compromise between the city and the corporate community, the legislature passed a last-minute law that allowed the city to phase in the effects of revaluation over five years while phasing out half of the unpopular 15 percent surcharge on commercial properties.
But an unintended consequence of that legislation is the rise in taxes on small commercial properties.
With Amann sitting behind him, Mayor Eddie A. Perez told the gathered crowd, "I don't think anybody in the room today understood that 583 businesses out of the 1,500-plus commercial properties would see an increase of 50 percent or greater."
"If we knew that impact, we would have reconsidered the action that the legislature took last year," Perez said. The "only way to manage this impact" is for the legislature to give the city "a minimum one more year, if not two years," Perez said.
"It's a little late in the session, but it's never too late to do the right thing, and the right thing is to put it off," Perez said.
Not everyone agrees. State Rep. Ken Green doesn't favor delaying revaluation.
"The situation doesn't get better with further delay," Green said in an interview, adding that the city should have anticipated this problem long ago.
"Why are we here in May, two weeks before the session ends, saying it's a state problem?" Green asked. "Our first option should be, what can the city do?"
State Rep. Art Feltman isn't necessarily opposed to the idea of a delay, but he thinks alternatives should be considered - especially since the delay isn't likely to get approved by either the legislature or the governor, he said.
Feltman also took issue with Amann.
"It's inaccurate to say that the fate of the bill depends on the positions of different" members of the delegation, Feltman said. "That's a copout. Because if all of the delegation stands up and says we want revaluation to be delayed and the governor won't sign the bill, it doesn't matter."
State Rep. Kelvin Roldan, who supports the one-year delay, conceded that the delegation faces a tough battle.
"I think there's still some sour taste in people's mouths given what happened last year," Roldan said. "But I think people are pretty positive about it. The only thing we can do is try."
State Rep. Marie Lopez Kirkley-Bey said she doesn't know if the delegation can reach consensus. "Hopefully the speaker will go with the majority," said Kirkley-Bey, who is deputy speaker. But even if he does, others in the legislature fear "this could open a pandora's box" for other cities and towns that want to delay revaluation.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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