THOMASTON — State Representative John E. Piscopo, R-76, reflected on a year-in-review following the recent conclusion of the 2019 Connecticut General Assembly. As the Senior Republican Whip, Rep. Piscopo sits as the third highest ranking member in his caucus and gives strong support for the Republican Party.
The 16-term veteran, who represents Burlington, Harwinton, Litchfield and Thomaston, is heavily active in a wide array of areas. He advocates for Thomaston and its residents as a member of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee; the Environment Committee; the Energy and Technology Committee as well as the Joint Committee on Legislative Management.
One priority for Rep. Piscopo this year was drafting a bill that aims to approve the state bonds to renovate the Thomaston Opera House.
“The bill to bond the renovation of the Thomaston Opera House died in the Finance Committee in a debate about not naming any particular projects, in keeping with the Governor’s debt diet,” Rep. Piscopo told the Town Times.
If issued, the bonding would amount to $1.5 million that would then be allocated to the Department of Economic and Community Development to be disbursed accordingly.
“My hope is there is money in the Department of Economic Development to fund this worthy project,” he said.
Another bill outlined an act which would allow for the authorization of bonds from the state to be issued for the Railroad Museum of New England.
This piece of legislation was also swiftly terminated in the House of Representatives, but Rep. Piscopo still holds on to hope that the funding can be achieved through alternative measures.
“We can work to help the Railroad Museum along the same lines,” he said. “A good turn in the bond package would provide competitive grants for the shipment of freight to bring in revenue for our museum.”
Raised Senate Bill 868, a separate policy proposal, aims to acquire state bonds for the improvement of commercial rail freight lines.
Co-sponsored by Rep. Geraldo C. Reyes, D-75, and Rep. Piscopo, this piece of legislation traveled through this year’s General Assembly.
The bill made considerable headway once the public hearing took place on Monday, February 25.
In a letter dated Wednesday, February 27, considered a public statement, Thomaston First Selectman Edmond V. Mone backed the bill, noting the many levels of influence that local and regional railways serve economically, not only for Thomaston but for surrounding communities in Northwest Connecticut.
“Thomaston has an excellent relationship with the Naugatuck Railroad Company and the Railroad Museum of New England,” Mr. Mone wrote. “In the past year, over 30,000 people from all around the Northeast came to our town to enjoy a ride in historic railroad cars through the bucolic Litchfield County countryside.”
Rep. Piscopo shared his thoughts on the matter during the public hearing with his February 25 testimony to the Transportation Committee.
“As State Representative of the 76th House District, which encompasses railroad in both Thomaston and in Litchfield, I cannot attest enough to the vital role that small freight railroads have in our state’s economy; businesses large (i.e. Home Depot and Eversource) and small depend on these railroads for the “last mile” and “first mile” freight services that they provide.”
He noted how the state of Connecticut has dropped its financial backing behind railway infrastructure reinvestments, shrinking opportunities, especially along the Naugatuck Railroad tracks from Waterbury to Torrington.
“Yet, due to little capital investment in our freight rail lines between 1940 and 1990, many of the still existing lines in Connecticut are largely underutilized, such as the Naugatuck Railroad, which runs between Waterbury and Torrington and was once a mainstay for the many manufacturing companies located along it,” he said. “Connecticut’s transportation infrastructure is now playing catch-up, but Senate Bill 868 has the potential to change that.”
Other notable community members, including Steve Casey, president of the Railroad Museum of New England, placed his and the museum board’s full support behind the legislation.
Although the bill did not pass but was placed on hold for this legislative sesson after leaving the Legislative Commissioner’s office, and moved back and forth between House and Senate Finance, Revenue and Bonding committees for review, parts of the bill may return to next year’s session as a redrafted or repackaged piece of legislation.
In contrast, this year’s most controversial legislative actions for Rep. Piscopo came from the proposition of two bills that seek to cut climate change from state educational standards and even eliminate the Next Generation Science Standards altogether.
House Bill 5995, if enacted would, “eliminate a controversial area of information in the Next Generation Science Standards.”
House Bill 5992, the second bill, would, “prohibit the use and adoption of Next Generation Science Standards and require the use of any such standards used prior to such adoption.”
Introduced by Rep. Piscopo and referred to the Joint Committee on the Environment, bills 5995 and 5992 were not approved during this session.
“The department is not in support of any attempt to erode the Next Generation Science Standards, which were adopted by the State Board of Education in November of 2015 thus making the NGSS the Science Standards for the State of Connecticut,” Connecticut State Department of Education Director of Communications Peter A. Yazbak told the Town Times.
Rep. Piscopo declined to comment about the bills.
Asked about Rep. Piscopo’s performance and track record, First Selectman Mone commented: “John continues to work hard in Hartford to represent Thomaston and the other communities that are in his district. Where he has been able to move the ball for the 76th house district he has, however it is extremely difficult to do so in the partisan atmosphere that exists at the Capital when you are in the minority.
“One significant accomplishment of late is his being able to get Thomaston enterprise zone status, which provides an economic development tool for us,” he said. “John is often on the correct side of the issues when he represents his constituents, regardless if he is successful or not, and as such the positions he takes are appreciated and admirable.”
In 2015, the implementation of an enterprise zone in Thomaston was approved by the state legislature. The boundaries of the enterprise zone encompassed all of the commercial and industrial zones in town.
Historically, Connecticut was the first state in the country to establish enterprise zones in 1982 with the creation of six communities that were classified with this distinction.
Currently, there are 19 enterprise zones throughout the state, including Thomaston.
An enterprise zone is a designated area within a municipality to encourage the construction of a new facility or expansion of a preexisting facility and even for an entity to occupy a previously empty facility.
Any qualifying real or personal property new to the Grand List may be eligible for a five-year 80 percent exemption of local property taxes as well as state credits toward portions of the Connecticut Corporate Business Tax.
Rep. Piscopo remains vocal about his concerns at the state level and how it affects his constituents in the 76th district.
“The budget this year was a terrible document, loaded with bills that did not make it through the process, pork barrel spending and taxes that will have an adverse effect on business and every resident of the state,” he said.
“Because of this budget, Connecticut will continue its bad habits of tax-and-spend and coddle its public unions without any cuts which would put this state on a barely subsistence level at best.”
Although he is dissatisfied with the outcome of this year’s state biennial budget, he believes these decisions may result in repercussions and possibly even inspire change in Connecticut.
“I would remain an optimist in reminding all our residents that elections have consequences, and we must not continue down the road of control exclusively by the Democrat Party and truly vote to give Republicans a chance to show they will lead in a responsible and common-sense manner,” he said.