Mayors and first selectman may see Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget proposal as a complex “shell game” with municipal aid, but the governor said it does two things: it prioritizes education and, in total, sends more money to municipalities.

The Malloy administration scheduled a Friday afternoon press conference in response to an earlier event, during which mayors from both parties criticized the governor’s budget.

Malloy, a former mayor of Stamford, managed to hold municipalities harmless in his first two-year budget despite the lapsing of federal education funds and a $3.6 billion state budget deficit in his first year.

But his second biennium budget proposal dramatically shifts how municipal aid is distributed. It forces towns to spend much of the funds on education and it changes another funding stream into a capital program.

All told, the state will spend $45 million more on towns under the proposal. Malloy’s answers to many of the questions posed to him Friday afternoon focused on the need to make education a priority in Connecticut.

“We’re sending more money to municipalities. That’s what we’re doing. We’re sending more money to municipalities,” he said, acknowledging that towns may need to adjust their budget priorities.

Mayors like New Haven’s John DeStefano said that the budget would force towns to spend additional money on either education or infrastructure projects forcing them to increase property taxes and layoff employees.

Malloy said that the capital improvement fund gives mayors more discretion on spending than they were acknowledging, but he said his budget dictates how towns spent some of their state aid.

“You’re absolutely right. I am saying that in this state and almost every one of the municipalities represented, education has to be a priority. You’re absolutely right, I am saying that,” he said.

Malloy said towns still have the ability to spend the money they collect through their own revenue streams. He said he understands the challenges of municipal governing, but he also said Connecticut has done a good job of holding municipalities harmless. He listed a handful of states he said have shifted their tax burdens to towns.

Asked why there appeared to be such a gap between how municipal leaders viewed the impact of his budget and how he sees it, Malloy paused and said he didn’t know.

“I’ve had to cut $1.8 billion on a same services basis out of the biennium budget. To get to that number, and to provide a reasonable level of services including to municipalities, we have to change. Change is hard. People don’t like change,” he said.
Malloy’s budget increases spending 9.7 percent over the next two years.

Asked whether he would continue to “battle” for his budget proposal now that it was in the hands of the legislature, Malloy rejected the term.

“I’m not battling anybody,” he said. “I don’t think defending and battling are interchangeable. So which one do you want me to answer?

A reporter answered “both.”

“Well we’re not battling. So next question,” Malloy replied.