(Updated 4 p.m.) Echoing the cry of mayors and first selectmen across the state, the legislature’s Republican caucus called on the Democratic majority Thursday to offer some mandate relief to municipalities when it meets next week in special session.
Specifically, Republican lawmakers urged their colleagues to delay implementation of in-school suspension until July 2012, delay a mandate requiring the criminal justice system to treat 16- and 17-years-olds as juveniles, delay a mandate requiring local governments to post minutes and meeting agendas on their Web sites, and lift a moratorium on school construction funding.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said the in-school suspension mandate alone would cost Bridgeport $600,000, Norwalk $250,000, and North Branford $42,000.
“The list goes on and on,” Cafero said. “This is a time we can keep our promise. These are promises not just delivered by the Republicans, but also our Democratic colleagues who over and over throughout the session said ‘hold on towns and municipalities, relief is on its way.’”
Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Southport, said these “are not new issues, but they are issues that need to be resolved.”
McKinney pointed out that the budget passed by the Democratic majority already cut municipal aid, which means towns will have to reduce services or raise property taxes.
The unfunded mandates only create a further burden on municipalities, McKinney said.
There also seems to be some confusion about whether the Democratic majority included a moratorium on funding for school construction projects. Earlier this week Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, denied there was any such implication in the budget, but Republican lawmakers contend it exists and that the Office of Fiscal Analysis has confirmed the information.
Newtown has a high school construction project under way and will have to borrow $11 million in order to complete it, McKinney said. The debt service on the $11 million will be more than $100,000 a year, a burden “that a small town has to bear because of this cut in the Democrat budget.”
However, McKinney doubted the $7.8 million school construction moratorium would actually take place. He said he doesn’t think the moratorium will come to fruition because “we’ve highlighted a horrible mistake in their budget and we may not be in the room negotiating implementers, but we’ve already scored a victory with this $7.8 million.”
“All of the gymnastics they’ve done to try to say ‘Oh, it’s not in there’ are ridiculous,” McKinney said. “They’re running away from it because it’s a bad idea.”
In a written statement Thursday afternoon, Donovan said the budget passed by the Democratic majority “mandates funding protections for cities and towns.” He said municipalities and school construction projects will be protected in next week’s budget implementer session.
“School construction projects will be funded, and funding for municipalities will be maintained,” Donovan said.
As far as the Republican’s are concerned, Donovan said, “We’re happy to listen to suggestions, but Democrats were the only ones to put their names on the budget with their votes – a budget that provides the funding that municipalities are relying upon. We don’t intend to abandon them now.”