Cromwell — The new leader of the state’s largest municipal lobbying group told his members Thursday to expect a more aggressive stance at the General Assembly. Then he proved it with criticisms of the Senate’s majority and minority leaders that were not well received in Hartford.
“We’re going to be much more proactive when it comes to advocacy,” said Joe DeLong, executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. “If we can’t convince legislators of what makes sense, then we’re going to convince their constituents of what makes sense.”
DeLong criticized Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, over the legislator’s rejection of CCM’s warnings about the cost to municipalities of expanding workers’ compensation to cover cancer for firefighters and post-traumatic stress for police. The bill passed the Senate, but stalled in the House.
“The majority leader started sending out tweets saying essentially, ‘I stand proudly with special-interest worker groups.’ OK, the message was very clear. It doesn’t matter what the cost is. It doesn’t matter where the money is going to come from,” DeLong said. “If you are a special interest labor working group you can count on me to be in your corner no matter what.”
A reporter had tweeted during a CCM press conference in late May that DeLong had said legislators wanted to expand workers compensation “because it sounds good to stand with first responders.”
Duff had quickly replied with his own tweet: “I’m proud to stand with first responders.”
DeLong’s complaint Thursday about Senate Minority Len Fasano, R-North Haven, was that the GOP leader pressed the Democratic majority to allow him at the table during budget negotiations, even though Fasano and his caucus already had pledged to vote against any budget with tax increases.
“I don’t want to be at that table,” DeLong said. “That table is boring, and it’s tiring, and it’s unproductive.”
Municipal officials, whether Republican or Democrat, cannot afford to indulge in political posturing, he said.
“They don’t have time for silly season,” DeLong said.
His audience applauded. DeLong, who was addressing the annual meeting of the conference, also promised a reorganization.
DeLong told reporters after his speech that CCM was shut out of conversations on issues directly affecting municipalities, including Senate Bill 1, which provided property-tax relief, accompanied by a cap on municipal spending.
“Are we putting a shot out across the bow a little bit? Yes, but the reason we’re doing that is during this session, when we kept asking to be let in to have some of these conversations, we kept getting shut out,” he said.
DeLong said the legislature’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee reported Senate Bill 1 to the floor while it was a work in progress, especially the provision on the spending cap.
“It’s almost impossible for people to have any input, to know if there’s any unintended consequences, if one of the top committees of the legislature is going to pass a bill that doesn’t exist.”
DeLong said he didn’t expect recriminations at the Capitol, where legislators are to return before month’s end in a special session to consider budget revisions, including the governor’s call for spending cuts that could include municipal aid.
CCM has asked legislators to loosen the municipal spending cap to three percent growth or inflation, whichever is greater.
“Quite frankly legislative leaders have thick skin,” said DeLong, who was the majority leader of the West Virginia House of Delegates. “I mean, that comes with the territory. If you can’t take a little criticism once in a while, you’re probably in the wrong business.”
He may be overly optimistic. Fasano was out of the country and unavailable for comment, but Duff responded tartly.
“I really don’t know who Joe DeLong is. I assume that’s probably more his problem than mine,” Duff said. “The great part about the Capitol is the ability to build relationships over time, even if people don’t agree on every single issue. He may need to learn a little bit of Politics 101.”