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Sharkey: Time For State Government To Think Big

Sharkey: Time For State Government To Think Big

Source: Kevin Maloney, New Haven Independent

If Brendan Sharkey has a say, then the state government will be going bigger for towns and cities over the coming years. 

The former speaker of the State House of Representatives from Hamden made that pitch on the ​“Municipal Voice”, a co-production of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and WNHH 103.5 FM. He came on the program to discuss the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, or ACIR for short, and the role he’d like them to play as chair. He was recently appointed to that chair position by Gov. Ned Lamont.

Sharkey had long advocated for an expanded role for ACIR. Taking on a leadership role onthe commission, especially during the pandemic, allowed him to look at some big issues that it could take on. 

“I felt that there was probably a more relevant role that It could play,” he said, ​“Particularly in the pandemic and post-pandemic as we reimagine local government.”

Thinking ahead for him has sparked a renewed interest in old ideas. One example being regionalism, through heightened use of Connecticut’s regional Council of Governments (COGs) that function as county-level equivalents. But also looking to education and financial obligations that the state can now fully fund. 

“There were some structural problems with state government and how it spent money, how it collected money,” Sharked said, ​“Which led to the kind of deficits we were facing year over year.” 

He continued that, ​“When you’re in that kind of environment, you have to start reneging [on promises].” 

With the coffers full, now is not the time to be reneging on promises to towns and cities, but to be fully funding programs like PILOT (Payments In Lieu of Taxes), which reimburses municipalities for revenue lost on property that the state deems tax-exempt.

More than anything else, he has set his sights on special education. Calling the state’s handling unique –- and not in a good way — he called for the state government to pick up funding for special education costs entirely. 

Arguing that the state in aggregate would spend less than municipalities do on an individual basis, it would streamline the process, deal with variables, and lift a huge property tax burden off of towns while still giving them control over their local school systems.

Over the next few years, Sharkey said, ACIR is going to make the case that they need more staff to conduct research and studies to be a much more effective resource in the future. 

Taking a look at intergovernmental relations has Sharkey looking bigger, even as he takes the time to convince the State that they need to do more. 

This is part of a larger shift to real regionalism. He said it’s clear that COGs and their educational equivalents are the future. But it won’t just be towns sharing a street sweeper. 

“No that’s not regional; Regionalism is the COG contracting for a fleet of street sweepers that are shared by all of the towns in that region so that not any one town has to bear that burden.” 

And he’s arguing that ACIR is going to need more brainpower to do all that rethinking. 

“I know within ACIR, our goal is to empower the COGs and RESCs to do more and more and more as we rethink how local government is done.”

Click here to watch the entire episode of The Municipal Voice.