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Concrete funding bill for homeowners crumbles

By Eric Bedner
Journal Inquirer | Posted: Wednesday, May 24, 2017 10:53 am

HARTFORD — A bill that would have provided roughly $12 million in each of the next two years to help homeowners fix crumbling concrete foundations died Tuesday, but House members remain optimistic they will still be able to pass a comprehensive bill this session.

The bill would have created a Crumbling Foundations Assistance Fund with money deposited from an annual $12 surcharge on certain residential property insurance policies.

It also would have allowed the Connecticut Health and Education Facilities Authority to issue bonds on behalf of two or more municipalities to be used for foundation replacements.

The Senate voted last week to make a simple language amendment and sent it back to the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee, where it was not called for a vote Tuesday.

“My understanding is that the changes made were rather minor,” the committee’s ranking member Rep. Christopher Davis, R-Ellington, said, adding that multiple bills were held because the House convened one hour after the committee meeting started Tuesday.

These “time constraints” cut the meeting short in order for House members to attend their session, he said.

Davis said the greater concern among committee members was about the surcharge and its potential impact to insurance policies throughout the state.

He added that there still are two concrete-related bills working their way through the General Assembly. Neither, however, would provide immediate financial relief to affected homeowners in their current form.

A bill waiting action in the House would prohibit anyone from installing a residential concrete foundation made with material known to contain 0.23 percent or more pyrrhotite — the mineral causing the foundation failures — and establish several requirements related to testing aggregate.

Rep. Catherine Osten, R-Sprague, who has repeatedly said she is focused on finding a solution to the problem, voted against passing the bill through the Appropriations Committee this month.

Additionally, the Senate has a “placeholder” bill that could authorize the commissioner of the Department of Consumer Protection to adopt regulations establishing a program to help residential and commercial property owners repair or replace their failing foundations.

The language of either bill still could be amended to provide financial relief for homeowners, but Sen. Timothy D. Larson, D-East Hartford, said there are no plans for the Senate to act on the other placeholder bill, and the Senate will wait for a bill to come to them from the House.

Larson, who introduced the now-dead Senate bill and last week’s amendment, said there were concerns that some inner-city legislators felt the surcharge, which would have included rental policies, was excessive for tenants.

“I think we can fix that concern on these other bills and move forward,” he said. “I’m not worried about it.”

“We’re going to come out with a comprehensive plan” that includes financial relief for affected homeowners, House Speaker Joseph Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said, adding that he hopes to have final language by the beginning of next week and call the proposal for a vote shortly thereafter.

He said he is “not sold to any one idea,” and intends to continue working with insurance companies, real estate agents, banks, House members, and DCP.

Aresimowicz said the surcharge would provide a substantial amount of money relatively quickly, but he’s still considering other options, including federal funding.

“We need to have a pot of money that (homeowners) can tap into,” he said. “Given our budget difficulties, it’s that much harder.”

Likewise, Davis remains optimistic that meaningful legislation will be passed this session.

Rep. Timothy Ackert, R-Coventry, said House members have been working on a bipartisan basis with leadership and they are committed to providing the framework for a solution.

“We’ve been working on something on our side already just in case something happened like this,” Ackert said, adding that the focus is to establish both a source of financial assistance and a way to test concrete aggregate for pyrrhotite.

Ackert said that while “it’s only a dollar a month on your homeowner’s policy” and “it would have helped,” he’s doubtful the $12 surcharge will be included in any potential future bill.

Rep. Michael Winkler, D-Vernon, said it’s unlikely an assistance program could be established without the surcharge.

“With a $5 billion deficit, there is no way to help people with crumbling foundations unless through some sort of surcharge,” he said. “I’m not generally in favor of surcharges and hidden fees. I like taxation to be up front, but given the budget situation there was no way to do it that way.”

Rep. Jeffrey A. Currey, D-East Hartford, said the intent all along was to have one piece of comprehensive legislation work its way through both chambers.

He said that House members will attempt to amend the current bill to include the surcharge.

“Everyone in this state is going to pay for this one way or another,” Currey said. “We have to find the best way to find support for the homeowners who are impacted by this. It’s irresponsible for us to think the onus is on them to pay for their house twice.”

Sen. Tony Guglielmo, R-Stafford, said it would be “a huge failure” if legislators don’t pass a bill that provides financial assistance to homeowners.

“There’s no other way to put it,” he said, adding that a lot can be done before the session ends June 7.

“Two and a half weeks in the real world is not long,” Gugliemo said. “But here, it’s a lot of time.”