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Regarding the Walk Bridge Project: Op-Ed by Reps. Fred Wilms and Gail Lavielle

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Rep. Fred WilmsLast week, the Department of Transportation (DOT) provided an update on the Walk Bridge project at City Hall. Present were the Mayor and his staff, State Senator Bob Duff, State Representative Bruce Morris and ourselves.

Below are our observations and recommendations:

 

 

The DOT is committed to building the Lift bridge alternative. In particular, the DOT prefers the 240 foot Vertical Lift Span encompassing two lift towers.

There is a huge gap between Norwalk community opinion and the DOT Lift Span alternative. One constantly hears the refrain around town that the DOT should simply weld the current bridge shut. While the DOT has engaged in community outreach, clearly more listening is needed.

We recommend that Norwalk engage an independent Peer Review of the DOT plans. While the DOT has many top-notch engineers, they are not local. Given the disconnect with Norwalk community opinion, the City should engage an independent Engineering Peer Review, and make these findings available to the public.

At a $1 billion total price tag, can the State afford this project? Our State’s fiscal crisis keeps getting worse. Given our fiscal reality, perhaps the DOT should revisit all of its Walk Bridge assumptions from a cost value perspective.

The Maritime Aquarium IMAX theatre will be demolished and used as a construction area. In exchange the Aquarium is expected to get a new theatre built on the other side.

We believe that Norwalk should receive at least three compensation projects for incurring the entire construction burden on behalf of the Northeast Corridor. New Haven received compensation for the Q Bridge project – so should Norwalk. Two good places to start would be the Wall Street train station and new bike/walk trails.

Our biggest overall concern is Norwalk’s becoming one big construction zone. In addition to the Walk Bridge, there will be the GGP Mall, Washington Village, Wall Street, additional Waypointe projects, the Yankee Doodle Bridge, and the East Avenue Bridge. If mismanaged, Norwalk could end up looking like the current Wall Street. We must not allow this to happen. Therefore the Walk Bridge alternative needs both the shortest construction schedule, and the lowest construction risk. The DOT should get out of Norwalk as quickly as possible and inflict the least amount of damage.

The federal waterway is a poor reason to choose a Bridge alternative. It appears the DOT wants Norwalk to have a federally navigable harbor north of the Walk Bridge more than Norwalk does. An honest assessment of the northern waterway acknowledges the entire area is gentrifying and that the old industrial uses are fading out. Maintaining the northern area for barges and large boats is more about the past and less about the future.

We must keep the greater good in mind when we advocate. While we advocate for our community interests, we must be mindful that the New Haven line carries more than 40 million riders per year. A Walk Bridge failure would imperil the entire Northeast Corridor. We must accept this broader reality and focus our advocacy on solutions that work for all.

Fred Wilms is the State Representative for the 142nd district, which encompasses Norwalk and New Canaan.

Gail Lavielle is the State Representative for the 143rd district, which encompasses Norwalk, Westport, and Wilton.

Rep. Fred Wilms on Meet the Leaders – June 6, 2017

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State Representative Fred Wilms speaks with David Smith on Meet the Leaders. They discuss tolls, bonding and the transportation Lockbox. Wilms is firmly against tolls and does not support bonding for the XL Center project or for corporate welfare. Wilms is proud that the House Republicans have been able to block certain bills from passage due to the close numbers in the House and because of internal disagreements within the Democratic Caucus.

Please click here to watch the full interview.

Reps. Lavielle, Wilms, and Wood Support Revised House Republican Budget Proposal in Response to Declining Revenue: No Tax Hikes Necessary

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Rep. Fred WilmsHARTFORD – State Representatives Gail Lavielle (R-143), Fred Wilms (R-142), and Terrie Wood (R-141) have joined the House Republican caucus in presenting a revised no-tax increase budget for 2018-19 that eliminates the projected $5 billion budget deficit, increases school funding for all towns, reduces the corporate surcharge, and mitigates municipal aid losses by reallocating funds.

The revisions were necessary because of severely declining tax receipts and revenue projections updated in April that predict a shortfall of $1.46 billion, which means the projected deficit for the 2018-2019 biennium now exceeds $5 billion.  Additionally, Connecticut is slated to finish the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30, with a deficit for the third year in a row. That deficit is $390 million.

Shortly before the release of the revised House Republican budget, Governor Malloy announced on Monday an update to the controversial plan he had proposed in February.  In his revised proposal, the governor recommends more than $700 million in cuts to municipal aid to help compensate for the precipitous decline in income tax receipts, as well as about $80 million in annual tax hikes in addition to the $600 million he included in his February proposal

“The governor’s revised budget proposal is still unacceptable for towns and taxpayers,” said Rep. Lavielle.  “It still includes the provision to transfer the cost of teacher pensions onto municipalities.  When he first suggested this back in February I warned that this was only a change in the taxing authority and will in no way reduce taxes.  In fact, it would require property tax increases because municipalities would be forced to raise the revenue to afford their new obligations.  Our budget does not require towns and cities to make any contributions to the teacher pension fund, it conscientiously avoids any cuts to education, and it preserves special education funding for all school districts.”

“Under our plan, total municipal aid to Norwalk would be protected, and Norwalk Hospital would not be subject to property taxes,” said Rep. Wilms. “Additionally, our budget pushes teacher pension costs back to the state.”

“The budgets put forth by Governor Malloy and our Democrat colleagues are balanced by deep cuts to our towns, local education and hospitals,” said Rep. Wood.  “There is another way to do it, and our adjusted budget proposal demonstrates that clearly by closing the budget deficit, restoring funding to our towns and local education budgets, all without increasing taxes. It’s a great starting point for negotiations this week.”

In the House Republican budget proposal, every town will see stable school funding.  House Republicans relied on significant state employee union concessions and reduced state spending to balance the budget. They also included a wage freeze for state employees, but no layoffs.

The revised House Republican proposal also includes a range of reductions in state spending and significant state employee union concessions. There is a wage freeze for state employees, but no layoffs.

“The House Republican budget approaches fiscal policy in a way that benefits taxpayers instead of special interests and state bureaucracy,” said Rep. Lavielle.  “We ask for specific concessions for unions that align pension and healthcare benefits more closely with those of employees in most other states and with those of private sector employees.”

Among the measures in the proposal that would reduce state labor costs are raising retirement contributions, increasing co-pays for healthcare, and omitting overtime from pension calculations.