HARTFORD, CT — It’s still unclear how much state aid Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will give to cities and towns when he unveils his budget next week, but at the very least it will include mandate relief.
At a Capitol press conference Tuesday, Malloy said he plans to include in his two-year budget tools to help make local government leaner and more cost efficient. Some are proposals that local elected officials have been touting for years, while others take aim at labor.
Earlier this month, Malloy more than hinted that he would be cutting and recalculating the $5.1 billion in state aid municipalities receive in order to balance a two-year budget. Exactly how those municipal aid and education formulas would be calculated as part of Malloy’s budget proposal is still unknown.
“The budget I will present to the General Assembly next week will provide greater flexibility in the areas cited most frequently in need of mandate relief by municipal leaders, organizations, and state commissions,” Malloy said.
Malloy is proposing getting rid of the 2.5 percent municipal spending cap for distribution of the state funds raised through a half-percent of the sales tax. He’s also proposing to increase the antique car assessment cap to $1,000 for vehicles less than 30 years old and giving towns flexibility with their assessment rates to allow them to collect a larger percentage of the value of property, subject to approval by the Office of Policy and Management.
Several other proposals would change the relationship between municipal leaders and their local labor unions. For example, any increase in state funding in 2017 could not be considered by arbiters being asked to assess a community’s ability to afford employee raises. Malloy would also allow towns to negotiate employee contributions under the Municipal Employees Retirement System.
In addition, Malloy would also change the prevailing wage law for the first time in 25 years. He’s proposing increasing the threshold to $1 million for new construction and $500,000 for remodeling. That means projects valued under those amounts won’t be subject to the prevailing wage.
“We appreciate and we applaud the efforts of Gov. Malloy to address some of these longstanding issues that have, for whatever reason, never moved forward in the legislature,” Betsy Gara, executive director of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns, said.
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities agreed calling the package “a credible and wide-ranging mandates relief package that would provide real fiscal relief to towns and cities.”
But at least one Connecticut labor leader was not impressed.
Lori Pelletier, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, said there’s no reason to balance the budget on the backs of workers.
She said the proposal to change prevailing wage laws is not going to save municipalities money, “it’s just going to give them something they think they want.”
By increasing the prevailing wage threshold, the contracts will go to the lowest bidder “and there won’t be training and there won’t be health and safety,” Pelletier said.
She said there’s other ways of helping municipalities. She said they agree that some regionalization needs to be done.
“Why aren’t we focused more on that?” Pelletier said.
One of the proposals made last week by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities would require municipalities to have their unions negotiate the ability to share services between two municipalities.
The municipal lobby also proposed a statewide local sales tax of 1 percent and with “voter approval” they want to allow municipalities with regional councils of government to impose a 1 percent local sales tax on food and beverages sold in restaurants, and on hotels.
Malloy said giving municipalities the ability to raise tax revenue is not going to be part of his budget proposal.
He declined to say whether he would support or oppose such a proposal if it was brought to him by the legislature.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, has proposed legislation that gives municipalities the ability to add a half-percent to the state sales tax. It’s one of the 11 bills Looney has introduced this year.