Connecticut’s largest municipal lobby is hoping that property tax reform, education finance reform, and infrastructure investment are part of the legislative agenda this year.
In advance of the 2015 legislative session, the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities laid out its three-point strategy and asked again that cities and towns receive at least the same amount of money they received last year from the state.
During the first four years, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who was a mayor for 14 years before getting elected governor, maintained the same level of funding for municipalities. But with the state facing a $1.3 billion deficit in the next fiscal year, it’s unclear what will happen.
Malloy is scheduled to deliver his budget to the legislature Feb. 4.
Ron Thomas, director of public policy and advocacy for CCM, said Monday that he remains confident based on comments Malloy made during the campaign that cities and towns will survive the budget axe.
In October, Malloy told local elected officials that if he lost the election to Republican Tom Foley it would be because of “my fidelity to you.”
Malloy said he’s proud that Connecticut took a different path to deal with its $3.7 billion budget deficit when he took office in 2011. He said he didn’t balance the state’s budget deficit on the backs of local property taxpayers by cutting municipal aid.
“The reality is we settled our budget difficulties in a different manner than every other state government that faced the kinds of problems that we did,” Malloy has said.
But the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities is looking for more from Malloy and the legislature this year.
It’s asking for a statewide takeover of special education costs and at the very least to guarantee level funding that does not change during the course of the fiscal year. It’s an issue the legislature’s Municipal Opportunities and Regional Efficiencies has been examining. Fluctuations in special education costs can cripple local budgets and drive up property taxes, according to local elected officials.
As for the Education Cost Sharing grant, which is generally the largest portion of state aid to municipalities, it’s underfunded to the tune of $600 million, Thomas said.
CCM is involved with a group of education advocates suing the state to change the formula, but that lawsuit, which was expected to go to trial this week, has been put on hold.
“That doesn’t mean that the needs need to be put on hold,” Thomas said. “We fully expect and want the state to really examine this issue.”
Perhaps the newest portion of CCM’s legislative agenda centers around infrastructure investment.
Thomas said they want to make sure programs like the Local Bridge Program, Town Aid Road, Local Capital Improvement Program, and Small Town Economic Assistance Program grants are properly funded.
According to a 2013 CNBC poll, Connecticut ranked 49th out of 50th in transportation and infrastructure quality. The passage of time and the slow recovery from a historic recession have created a perfect storm for the deterioration of Connecticut’s local roads and bridges, according to CCM.
“While the state has made strides, funding has not kept pace with the declining state of our transportation infrastructure,” CCM stated in a press release.
Malloy has promised to make transportation infrastructure a priority during his second term, but has not said yet how he plans to fund it.
Thomas declined to weigh in on how CCM feels about the various funding mechanisms that become necessary for the state to make those investments. He said those discussions are ongoing.