Municipal officials like a lot of what’s in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget, but there’s a few tweaks they’d like to see the legislature make.
Local officials told the legislature’s Appropriations Committee Thursday that they were pleased Malloy’s two-year budget funds education grants at last year’s levels and maintains almost all of the municipal aid programs.
However, they were upset about the elimination of the Manufacturing Machinery and Equipment grant, prevailing wage laws, and would like to see some mandate relief.
Malloy has already admitted there may be room to modify the proposal to eliminate the state funding for the Manufacturing Machinery and Equipment grant, which hit’s industrial towns like East Hartford and even the small town of Sprague disproportionately.
The elimination of the MM & E grant means Sprague will see a $400,000 decrease in funding over the next two years.
“This $400,000 would close our library, our senior center, and layoff a public works person,” Sprague First Selectwoman Cathy Osten said. “I’m imploring you to change the MM & E.”
East Hartford Mayor Maria LeClerc joined Osten in calling for changes to the MM & E. She said for East Hartford, which is home to Pratt & Whitney the state’s largest manufacturer, will lose $3.6 million. She said there is no way to make up for such a significant loss of revenue other than implementing a significant tax increase.
Small town officials like Roxbury First Selectwoman Barbara Henry said she’s not as concerned about the elimination MM & E as her other colleagues with the Council of Small Towns, because Roxbury only loses about $478.
She said she doesn’t have any solution at the moment for how to raise the revenue, but it’s an area the governor has promised to look at.
Henry said she’s also concerned about the defunding of the Small Town Economic Assistance Program. The program created back in 2001 for small towns, which don’t qualify for some federal funding programs has helped her town complete projects they wouldn’t have been able to without STEAP.
“STEAP is gravy for us,” Henry said.
Malloy’s Budget Director Ben Barnes said there’s already $20 million in the STEAP account so he didn’t believe it was necessary to putting any funding into that item in the first year of the budget. He said there’s a delay in making the awards so there’s plenty of money in the account. He suspects the legislature will add money to the account in the second year of the budget, a move which he described as “understandable.”
Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, who used to be a state senator, said for the first time a governor released a budget that didn’t target municipalities for cuts. He said he appreciates the administration’s attempt to hold municipalities harmless, but he sees some flaws in how some of the additional sales tax revenue will be distributed.
He said there’s a giant mall that sits on the border of Bridgeport and Trumbull, but because it’s officially located in Trumbull that town will see all the benefit of the new taxes. He said Bridgeport provides 75 percent of the employees and about 40 percent of its customers so it’s hard for him to understand why the state hasn’t devised a redistribution plan on a regional basis.
“Anytime you can, break down boundaries so we don’t fight each other it’s probably a good idea,” Finch said.
But he urged his former colleagues to get behind the governor’s budget as much as they can.
Municipal leaders also urged the legislature to amend prevailing wage laws and increase the threshold for when it kicks in on construction projects, modify binding arbitration laws so a towns reserve balance isn‘t included, and begin to offer some relief from the 1,200 state mandates on cities and towns.