(Updated 4:55 p.m.) The largest municipal lobby in the state isn’t giving up its fight against Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget. In fact, its lobbying efforts have only increased as a deadline for the legislature’s budget looms.
“Our ask of the legislature is simple,” Jim Finley, executive director and CEO of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said. “Please pass a budget that doesn’t raise property taxes even further, that doesn’t result in cuts to municipal services, and doesn’t force my colleagues behind me to lay off more municipal employees.”
At a press conference in the Legislative Office Building, Finley was joined by local elected officials from around the state who spoke about what proposed changes in municipal funding formulas would mean to their cities and towns.
Mansfield Mayor Betsy Paterson said getting rid of the state reimbursement for property owned by the University of Connecticut would drive a $7 million hole in her town’s $45 million budget. Eliminating municipal motor vehicle taxes on vehicles valued at more than $28,000 would cost her town another $2 million.
Torrington Mayor Ryan Bingham urged lawmakers to “craft a new state budget proposal that truly holds municipalities harmless.”
He said the Education Committee took good first steps when it approved legislation removing the use of state payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) from the Education Cost Sharing formula, but the committee didn’t go far enough in correcting the dramatic changes Malloy made to municipal funding.
Finley said they were encouraged by their conversations Wednesday morning with legislative leadership and rank-and-file lawmakers. He said they understand the plight of municipalities, “but they have a real challenge in trying to put together a budget that’s balanced going forward.”
He said he thinks there’s strong support in the legislature to maintain PILOT in it’s current form, which allows municipalities to use the money for municipal expenses. Malloy’s budget would force them to use the money on education.
“For the Education Committee to take the stand they did really sort of underscores their sensitivity to municipal concerns over the governor’s budget proposal,” Finley said.
A Connecticut Voices for Children report released Wednesday morning highlights some of the changes Malloy’s budget made to municipal funding formulas and suggests that if he wants to make education a priority, he should look toward closing “corporate tax loopholes” for revenue.
Finley said Sen. President Donald Williams suggested that they’re looking to cut the recommended amount of spending in Malloy’s budget and the Finance Committee is looking at revenue options if they need them. He said there doesn’t seem to be an appetite to increase taxes however, so those would be a last resort.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, acknowledged the challenges his caucus faces in crafting a budget proposal.
But he said that he’s encouraged by a report from the Federal Reserve Bank that outlined how New England states can maximize efficiencies at the local level through greater consolidation of select government services.
He said he’s pushing the Municipal Opportunities and Regional Efficiencies commission to come forward with similar incentive-based recommendations to include in the Appropriations Committee budget.
As for eliminating PILOT for state-owned property entirely, Sharkey said “it’s a bit Draconian to just take that away overnight.”
But he remains confident the governor’s office is willing to have a conversation about their budget proposals and how the state goes about achieving the savings.
Malloy’s budget office has been defending its budget proposal, which it says increases municipal funding even if it forces cities and towns to spend more of it on education.
“Connecticut is facing a budget shortfall next year of over a billion dollars and we need to cut even more than that to comply with the state spending cap,” Gian-Carl Casa, undersecretary of legislative affairs at the Office of Policy and Management, said in a statement. “In the context of that reality, the governor’s budget would send at least as much state aid to every town as they received in the previous year, albeit in different ways than the state does now.”
As far as the CT Voices For Children report, Casa said he doesn’t understand the criticism.
“It criticizes the proposed budget for shifting funding to education — but then claims it does not increase education funding,” Casa said.
He said the report seems to be confused and that what it really wants to do is increase taxes, an option which Malloy has taken off the table.
But Wade Gibson, a senior fellow at CT Voices for Children, believes Casa must have read their analysis wrong.
“Despite Mr. Casa’s assertion, nowhere in CT Voices for Children’s report on Governor Malloy’s education aid proposal do we state that his proposal ‘does not increase education funding.’ Quite the opposite,” Gibson said.
The report does find that two-thirds of the governor’s proposed increase in Education Cost Sharing to high-need school districts is funded from cuts to other municipal aid, Gibson said.
“These cuts to municipal aid could lead to increased property taxes and the proposed shifts from other municipal aid to education grants could distort local funding for education in ways that have little to do with the educational needs of towns or their capacity to pay for education,” he added.