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Advocates Urge CT Lawmakers to Protect Community Investment Act

Advocates Urge CT Lawmakers to Protect Community Investment Act
Supporters of Connecticut's Community Investment Act are opposing Governor Dannel P. Malloy's plan to remove money from the fund.
Advocates are opposing Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy's plan to remove money from the state's Community Investment Act.  The program, created in 2005, funds agriculture, historic preservation, open space purchases and affordable housing across the state.
Lisa Bassani's Project Director for the Working Lands Alliance, a project of American Farmland Trust.  She says the alliance was instrumental in the CIA's creation, which has since become a dedicated source of funding for a number of Connecticut's agricultural programs, including ones that support dairy farmers and others that preserve farmland.  
Bassani's calling Governor Malloy's to budget proposal to divert money from the Community Investment Act into the state's general fund a "complete sweep" of the program's own finances.
"[The WLA's] point is that this is a dedicated source of funding," Bassani says.  "It was created to be outside of the budget structure.  It was created so that in years when there are budget issues, like we have in 2015, that this would remain a dedicated source of funding."
Bassani and other advocates have formed a diverse coalition to urge Connecticut lawmakers to keep the program intact.
"It's been incredibly successful," Bassani says.  "We've tracked about $133 million in investment to the four sectors.  It's beneffited almost every community in Connecticut, with 168 of 169 municipalities having beneffited from this program in a material way."
Members of the other sectors are echoing Bassani's sentiments.  
Helen Higgins is with the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, a statewide non-profit entity and a statutory partner with the state's Department of Economic and Community Development.  She says emptying funds from the Community Investment Act would virtually wipe out all historic preservation funding in the state.
"[The CIA] goes where nobody goes: the community buildings that are our downtown centers, our historical societies and our small museums," Higgens says. "This is where the money goes, and before we had this funding, there was nothing, and these buildings sort of languished.  Now we're able to invest in them."
Amy Blaymore Paterson represents the open space sector.  She's Executive Director of the Connecticut Land Concervation Council, an umbrella organization for the state's 137 land trusts, as well as its conservation communities.  Paterson says the CIA's one of two funding sources for the state's Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program, run by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and she says it's the only dedicated one.
Paterson says the program's the backbone of the state's land conservation efforts.  She says without the consistent source of CIA funding, the only source of money is through bonding, which has to be authorized and allocated by the state Bond Commission before becoming a reliable source.
Paterson says while she applauds Governor Malloy's administration for not only actively authorizing open space bonds, but also allocating them, the CLCC still wants to see consistent funding for the sector.
"We worry very strongly what will happen to the Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program if the Community Investment Act funds are not assured," Paterson says.
Betsy Gara, with the Connecticut Council of Small Towns, is also pushing to protect open spaces.  The advocacy group represents municipalities across the state with less than 30,000 residents.  Gara says she's concerned Governor Malloy's budget proposal will wipe out these towns' only tool for purchasing and protecting land.
"Small towns value their rural character and the quality of life that comes with having a lot of farmlands, forested lands, and open space," Gara says.
Advocates want Connecticut lawmakers to leave the Community Investment Act out of the general fund.  A spokesman for the state's Office of Policy and Management told the Associated Press Governor Malloy had to make tough decisions to cut spending.