As a former mayor, Gov.-elect Dan Malloy intimately understands how municipalities struggle when state aid is cut, but the largest municipal lobby isn’t taking anything for granted in laying out its legislative priorities.
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities made clear Monday that cuts in municipal aid will simply shift the tax burden to local property taxpayers across the state. But with Malloy, a former president of the organization as governor, the group is optimistic that their message will resonate this year.
“We recognize it’s going to be a tough session,” Kevin Maloney, spokesman for CCM, said Monday. “Certainly municipal aid is such a big part of every budget that it’s going to be looked to, but we have a new governor,” whose budget director, Ben Barnes, used to work for the organization.
“We think this is the time where our message is going to resonate that any cuts to cities and towns only result in increases in property taxes and cuts in local services,” Maloney added.
CCM’s first priority is to make sure the state funds the Education Cost Sharing grant at least at the same levels as it did last year.
On the campaign trail Malloy promised make sure the state funded its share of the Education Cost Sharing grant. But it will be a daunting task as the state has projected a more than $3.67 billion budget deficit.
Last year the state covered about 42 percent of school funding while local districts paid more than 52 percent. The states ability to cover 42 percent of school costs was due in part to the approximately $270 million in federal stimulus funds that won’t be there in 2011.
In June when he unveiled his education plan for the state Malloy said “I am embarrassed that during the last 16 years Connecticut’s share of state dollars flowing to local boards of education to support education went from being on par with the national average to being 17 percent below it.”
“This problem was ignored in the good times. It should not be ignored in the bad times,” Malloy added at the time.
However, CCM officials are also worried about non-education municipal aid programs, such as Town Aid Road and PILOT [Payment in Lieu of Taxes], which account for about $900 million.
“If you decimate state aid to towns that’s only going to create more havoc in terms of what taxpayers in Connecticut have to pay and what services they receive,” Maloney said Monday.
But it’s those non-education municipal grant programs, which usually make it to the chopping block.
CCM urged the governor and the legislature to earmark the Native American gaming revenues for future property tax relief by dedicating any increase in revenue to fully fund PILOT payments for state-mandated property tax exemptions.
It also urged the legislature to repeal of defer any existing unfunded state mandates and enact legislation that requires a two-thirds votes of the General Assembly in order to pass any new unfunded mandates.
While supportive of giving cities and towns the ability to raise their own revenue through local option taxes, CCM warned that any cuts to municipal aid can’t be replaced by giving municipalities the ability to collect more than just the property tax.
“I don’t think it can be one in place of the other,” Maloney said. “During this time towns need a certain level of local option taxes, but it can’t be one in exchange for the other. Dollar for dollar that’s not going to match up.”
Last year a local option hotel tax passed the House but it never made it to a vote in the Senate before the General Assembly adjourned.
Lawmakers have already introduced legislation to require a two-thirds vote on any unfunded state mandates for municipalities. In past years CCM was successful in delaying the implementation of in-school suspensions.