NEW BRITAIN — Two days before a key vote, the political struggle over local tax breaks for Costco spread to the state level when the Democratic legislative delegation announced it would press for state aid instead.
In a joint statement with the several Democratic aldermen, the legislators offered to press for state economic development aid for Costco. In exchange, they're suggesting that the council table Republican Mayor Erin Stewart's plan to give the company $2.1 million in local property tax abatements.
Stewart on Tuesday categorized the proposal as "an 11th-hour attempt to further derail or delay" the overdue Costco plan.
The common council on Thursday night is scheduled to vote on Stewart's plan to give Costco a seven-year phase-in of taxes on the warehouse store it wants to build alongside the Stanley Golf Course.
Stewart has said she is concerned that the company might give up on New Britain and build elsewhere, taking the prospect of new taxes and 220 jobs — most with benefits and relatively high wages for retail work.
But Alderman David DeFronzo has said it's a needless giveaway to a multibillion-dollar corporation at a time when city property taxes are rising 11 percent. He and other opponents said Tuesday that it makes more sense to postpone acting on the plan Stewart negotiated until the delegation can determine if the state will kick in money.
Under Stewart's plan, Costco would still pay full taxes on business equipment inside the store during the abatement period. Even so, the deal would cut Costco's total tax bill in New Britain roughly in half for those seven years in business. Her administration estimates Costco would be paying the city just under $2.2 million during that time.
Stewart defended the plan, arguing that it won't cost New Britain taxpayers anything because they are getting no revenue from the land right now. If the company builds the giant store, though, the city would take in about $314,000 a year during the abatement, and far more afterward, she said.
State Sen. Theresa Gerratana and state Reps. Peter Tercyak, Rick Lopes and Robert Sanchez agreed with DeFronzo that they should explore state funding first. Lopes said it would be in New Britain's favor to have a state grant cover the expense so homeowners would get the full tax value from Costco.
DeFronzo has opposed the entire Costco project since it was put forward three years ago by Stewart's farther, Timothy, who was mayor at the time. But Democratic Alderman Emmanuel Sanchez, a potential swing vote in the Thursday night decision, has supported bringing Costco into New Britain; in a statement Tuesday, he agreed that pursuing state aid would keep the plan advancing while protecting local taxpayers.
Stewart countered that Democrats are welcome to seek state aid — after New Britain approves its tax abatement and gets Costco to begin construction. If Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration comes through with grants then, the city could modify its agreement with Costco to reduce the tax incentives, she said in a statement.
The council meeting Thursday is at 7 p.m. at city hall.