JOHN G. ROWLAND – Stepping down July 1

He was once the youngest governor in the country and a rising GOP star, yet these days most of Gov. John G. Rowland’s press centers on the announcement of his resignation amid accusations of gift-taking and shady real estate dealings.

But members of the banking and real estate industries, while saddened by the scandal that has rocked the governor’s office, say they remember Rowland – who will step down July 1 – as more of a friend than a foe to their businesses.

“On the whole, it’s a really tragic way for his term to end,” said Connecticut Association of Realtors spokeswoman Lisa Governale.

Since all the facts aren’t yet in regarding the allegations against Rowland, members of the real estate industry have expressed varying reactions to his announcement on Monday, according to CAR Vice President of Government Affairs Tim Calnen.

But the real estate profession has benefited from many of Rowland’s policies during most of the 10 years he has been governor, Calnen said. Rowland was instrumental in passing the property condition disclosure law, which requires sellers of real estate to disclose any defects the property might have before completing a sale. The legislation was extremely important for the real estate industry, Calnen said.

“That was like a milestone for us,” he said.

Rowland also helped pass the brokers lien law, which helps Realtors protect their commission, and supported legislation that CAR advocated for the first eight years of his time in office, Calnen said.

“He was a supporter of private enterprise and the housing market,” Calnen said.

But CAR hasn’t been as happy with Rowland over the past two years. Association members didn’t like how Rowland balanced the budget, by taking money from special funds such as the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority and using it to balance the general fund, Calnen said.

“We didn’t think that was proper,” Calnen said.

CAR also had higher hopes that Rowland would be a better advocate of affordable housing, but he has a mixed record on that issue, Calnen said. When Rowland first came to office, he revived the state’s down payment assistance program, which helps Connecticut residents buy their first home, to applause from the real estate industry. But his record hasn’t been as strong since.

“I think most of our members would say he could have done better, but he certainly wasn’t our worst enemy or threat,” Calnen said. “His record is mixed in affordable housing.”

‘An Ally’
Rowland also has helped the banking industry since he was elected in 1994, said John Carusone, president of the Bank Analysis Center in Hartford.

“He was a friend of the banking industry,” Carusone said.

Rowland appointed John P. Burke, Connecticut’s banking commissioner, and both men have been proponents of the dual banking system.

“Generally, the governor was an ally,” Carusone said.

But Rowland’s recent scandal has brought some shakiness to business in Connecticut, which has had a trickle-down effect on banks. The state led the country into the recession and is one of the slowest to pull out, Carusone said.

“Political instability breeds business uncertainty,” Carusone said. “It’s better to have this embarrassment behind us for the economic good of the state.”

Carusone hopes Rowland’s successor, Lt. Gov. M. Jodi Rell, will be as pro-business as Rowland has been, but the lieutenant governor, who will hold the governor’s office until 2006, is not well known to the banking industry.

“She’s an enigma wrapped in a question mark,” Carusone said.

Members of the real estate industry have similar hopes for the former state representative from Brookfield. One of the first things CAR members hope she will address is the elimination of the real estate conveyance tax, a tax on the sale of property that was supposed to sunset at the end of this month, but which has been extended, Calnen said.

“That would be an immediate desire for us,” Calnen said.

Rell is better known to the real estate industry than to the banking industry. She has spoken at CAR events as lieutenant governor and helped CAR pass some legislation about insurance when she was a state representative. She has been supportive of small-business people, Calnen said.

“We had some feel for her world view,” he said. “She’s very sensitive to the needs of small-business owners.”

Calnen hopes she will continue with that track record during her administration, but admits it is hard to anticipate what a person will do as governor.

“To some extent, I think a person is the product of her past,” he said.