Attorney General: Honorable Robert L. Genuario, Secretary, Formal Opinion 2007-001, Attorney General State of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

February 1, 2007

Honorable Robert L. Genuario, Secretary
Office of Policy and Management
450 Capitol Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106

Dear Secretary Genuario:

This letter responds to your request dated January 23, 2007, for an opinion as to whether the City of Hartford’s proposed construction of the Pathways Interdistrict Magnet School (“School”) on property that was transferred from the State to the City qualifies as “economic development” within the meaning of deed restrictions on that property.  For the reasons set forth below, we conclude that the construction of the School would not constitute an “economic development purpose” within the meaning of the deed restrictions, based on the facts currently available.

There may be situations when a school could be considered part of an economic development project, but such circumstances do not seem to be present here, at least on the current facts. If the city has additional facts that would change this conclusion, the State should consider them.  At this time, the School is designed to provide employment in construction, prepare students for significant jobs in technology and link students with potential employers, but the School does not appear to be part of an economic development project or plan as that term is commonly understood.  Notably, the legislature did not include educational purposes in the permitted uses of this property, as it has done in conveying other land for educational purposes in other legislation.  See, e.g., S.A. 89-54, § 2; S.A. 94-16, § 5(b); S.A. 97-20, § 19(b); S.A. 01-6, § 26(b); P.A. 05-279, §§ 9, 18; S.A. 06-10, § 12(b).

 

This conclusion in no way mitigates or minimizes the obligation to fund and support magnet school construction pursuant to the Sheff v. O’Neill mandate.  Indeed, the urgency of that objective makes cooperation and collaboration between City and State--as opposed to confrontation--all the more critical.  We respect and support the vision and conviction embodied in this education project.  But it is an education project, not economic development as the deed restriction requires. 1

 

Background

 

The facts, as they have been represented to us, are limited in scope:  The land on which the proposed School is to be constructed, located at the intersection of Broad Street and Farmington Avenue in Hartford, was previously owned by the State.

 

In a series of special acts, the legislature authorized the conveyance of the property to the City.  Initially, the legislature restricted the use of the property to be conveyed to “the construction of a new combined fire and police department headquarters.”  Special Act 90-37, § (1)(b).  Subsequently, the legislature expanded the permissible uses and authorized the conveyance of the property “for economic development purposes, for the construction of a new combined fire and police department headquarters or for park purposes.”  Special Act 03-19, § 28 (amending Special Act 90-37, § (1)(b), as amended by Pub. Act 92-15, § 12, and Pub. Act. 00-168, § 4; emphasis added).  Nowhere in these acts does the legislature specify educational purposes as a permissible use.

 

Pursuant to this legislation, the State conveyed the property to the City by a quitclaim deed in 2003.  The deed expressly included the statutory restrictions imposed by the legislature on the use of the property. 

 

The City proposes to construct the School on this property.2  The City maintains that “[o]ne of the primary purposes of constructing the School at this site is to promote economic development.”  Letter dated Jan. 17, 2007 from Mayor Eddie A. Perez to Interim Commissioner of Education George A. Coleman.  The City has offered the following description of the economic development purposes of the School:

 

Pursuant to the curriculum for the School, which is shaped by a public/private partnership with local businesses, the student body is trained in the most advanced and emerging technologies in order to provide downtown businesses, both large and small, with a state-of-the art workforce that can provide immediate support and assistance to such businesses to help them compete and succeed in an increasingly competitive global economy.  This well-honed initiative will create on an ongoing basis both permanent and part-time jobs.  In addition, the cost of this School is estimated to be $38.83 million dollars, and the construction of the School will generate approximately 600 jobs and involve the participation of approximately 17 first tier minority owned business enterprises, equal to $5.1 million dollars or 23% of the construction costs, and 180 Hartford residents.  Once construction is complete, the School will then generate approximately 40 permanent jobs for Hartford, when its current staff is moved to the Property from their offices in Windsor.

Id. 

 

The legislature has enacted legislation providing grants for reimbursement of capital expenditures to municipalities for the construction of interdistrict magnet schools.  Conn. Gen. Stat. §  10-264h.  The State Department of Education is responsible for approving applications for such reimbursement and the plans for such projects.  Id.; Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 10-291, 10-292.  The Department of Education has indicated to the City on a number of occasions, including most recently by letter dated January 24, 2007, that it would not authorize State funding for the project until resolution of the question whether the School’s construction is consistent with the deed’s restriction for “economic development purposes.”

 

Analysis

 

The resolution of the question posed--whether the City’s proposed construction of the School is consistent with the deed restrictions--depends on the interpretation of the phrase “economic development purposes” in the legislation authorizing the conveyance of the property.  As always, our task is to construe the statutory language in a manner that is consistent with the apparent intent of the legislature.  Manifold v. Ragaglia, 272 Conn. 410, 419 (2004).  That intent is initially ascertained from the text of the statute itself and its relationship to other statutes; extratextual evidence of intent is not considered unless, from the examination of the statutory text and its relationship to other statutes, the statute’s meaning is ambiguous or yields absurd or unworkable results.  Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-2z.  When a statute is not plain and unambiguous, guidance may be sought in the legislative history, the circumstances surrounding its enactment, and the legislative policy it was intended to implement.   Cogan v. Chase Manhattan Auto Fin. Corp., 276 Conn. 1, 7 (2005). 

 

The legislation authorizing the conveyance of the property does not define “economic development purposes,”  and the relevant legislative history offers no guidance as to its meaning. Some guidance may be drawn from other statutes.  For example, in the statutes relating to the Connecticut Development Authority, “economic development project” is defined to include, among other things, a purpose that will

 

be used or occupied by any person for . . . manufacturing, industrial, research, office or product warehousing or distribution purposes and which the authority determines will tend to maintain or provide gainful employment, maintain or increase the tax base of the economy, or maintain, expand or diversify industry in the state, or . . . materially contribute to the economic base of the state by creating or retaining jobs, promoting the export of products or services beyond state boundaries, encouraging innovation in products or services, or otherwise contributing to, supporting or enhancing existing activities that are important to the economic base of the state.

 

Conn. Gen. Stat. §  32-23d(u); see also Conn. Gen. Stat. §  13b-57d(b)(3) (same definition relating to the Connecticut Transportation Strategy Board).

 

We conclude that the legislature generally intends the phrase “economic development” to encompass projects or activities that enhance the economic base of the state.  The context of these statutes indicates that the legislature has used the phrase “economic development” concerning projects that involve purposes such as industrial diversification, maintenance of the tax base, promotion of exports, and advancement of technological innovation. 

 

No categorical legal conclusion can be drawn from the language of the authorizing legislation as to whether the construction of a particular school could be an “economic development purpose.”  School construction is more commonly promoted as serving an educational purpose, rather than economic development.  Any project or use of property must be assessed on its facts. An economic development purpose is necessarily a fact-specific question that can only be decided on a case-by-case basis.  In certain circumstances--for example, when an educational facility is proposed as part of a broader plan to promote industrial, technological or other business research and development--the construction of a school may well be deemed to have an economic development purpose.

 

The facts available fail to show that the construction of the Pathways Interdistrict Magnet School would constitute an economic development purpose.  The purposes of the School set forth by the City as evidencing an economic development purpose--creation of construction jobs and education of students capable of competing in the global economy--could be attributed to many school construction projects.  If the deed restriction on use of the property is to have any meaning, an economic development purpose must involve something more than construction of a school, even if its mission as a magnet is broader than the typical secondary school. Although designed to generally promote technology training and employment, it is still a single school on a specific site, not part of a larger project for development of an economic plan. The City’s goals are certainly important and worthwhile, but the current available facts do not demonstrate an economic development purpose as contemplated by the legislature in conveying this property.   

 

              

Conclusion

 

Based on the facts currently available, the construction of the School on this site would not constitute economic development as that term is used in the statute, and would therefore be contrary to the restrictions imposed in the deed conveying the land to the City. If there are additional facts that the City wishes to present, state officials may assess whether they qualify the School as economic development using the criteria set forth here.



 

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL

ATTORNEY GENERAL

 

Mark F. Kohler

Assistant Attorney General



1 The legal issue posed to us--relating to the meaning of economic development in the deed--is separate and distinct from the policy issues involving the site. In the Governor’s view,  the site “poses significant and troubling safety and traffic concerns and is not at all appropriate for a school.” See letter of January 30, 2007.  This view could foreclose the site, regardless of our conclusion on the legal issue.  The Commissioner of Education must approve the plans for interdistrict magnet school facilities,  Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 10-264h(b); 10-291, 10-292; Conn. Agencies Regs. § 10-287c-15, and has the authority to consider the appropriateness of the school site in deciding whether to approve a school building project for state reimbursement. If the Commissioner determines that the site is inappropriate or unsafe, he can disapprove the application, regardless of the deed restriction. See also January 31, 2007 letter of Senator Thomas P. Gaffey, Senate co-chair of the Education Committee, to Acting Commissioner of Education George Coleman.

 

2 The School is presently located at a temporary site in Windsor.


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