HARTFORD, CT — Republican legislative leaders were quick to call a press conference Tuesday to announce that they have a plan to restore Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s $20 million in mid-year budget cuts.
At that press conference, Republicans said they would use money from the reserve salary account, a 5-percent reduction in other various accounts, and a 10-percent reduction to Connecticut Television Network, which was televising their press conference, to make up the difference.
“When you make a promise to towns, you cannot halfway through the year cut the towns and expect them to go on surviving,” Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said.
On Dec. 29, 2016, Malloy’s administration announced that education funding would be reduced between 25 and 90 percent for the 25 wealthiest communities, and 68 of the poorest communities would lose about 1 percent or less of their grant. Distressed municipalities such as Hartford will receive $250,000 less and wealthy towns like Greenwich will lose up to 90 percent or $1.3 million of its education funding.
Fasano said they had planned to make it a bipartisan announcement, but Democrats have stopped responding to their emails and phone calls. He said they sent dozens of drafts to Senate and House leadership “we thought that they were going to be on board.”
Fasano said he’s gotten no response as to why Democratic legislative leadership ended discussions, “but it was very surprising that they would not come to the table to help out the municipalities that their members represent.”
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said they offered to stay at the table and continue their discussions.
“The Republicans instead chose to hold a press conference and play politics as usual, much as they did last week on the pension refinance bill,” Looney said. “Rather than rushing into a press conference without details or consensus, we intend to meet with the members of our caucus on Wednesday to discuss the issue in hope to move from there to a bipartisan consensus.”
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said Republicans went to Democratic legislative leaders a month ago and said they would like to restore the mid-year budget cuts to municipalities.
“There was some agreement,” on the Democratic side, “until yesterday when we had a final conversation,” Klarides said. “We still haven’t gotten an answer.”
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said the details still need to be fully assessed.
“With the current budget year in balance, making a minor adjustment to avoid these cuts is certainly worth looking at,” he said. “We offered to sit down to go over their proposal, but were told an announcement was already set. I’m still willing to meet and govern together.”
Chris McClure, a spokesman for Malloy, called the Republicans’ proposal “laughable.”
“Given their ongoing sanctimony about so-called ‘structural’ budget fixes, it’s laughable that Republicans now want to spend every last nickel in the current year budget, even with a very small projected surplus,” McClure said. “If Connecticut Republicans were actually fiscally-responsible, they would put any surplus into the Rainy Day Fund at year’s end. Instead, they want to eliminate our surplus, and risk putting Connecticut back into a current-year deficit.”
He said it’s not a serious proposal, but an attempt to “pander and get headlines.”
Litchfield First Selectman Leo Paul, who is the president of the Council of Small Towns, said the $58,000 mid-year reduction is no laughing matter.
He said it means his town will likely delay projects that were scheduled for later this year.
“That may not sound like a large amount, but I have under a $10 million budget,” Paul said.
Joe DeLong, executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said the mid-year cuts in state aid further “underscore the need for local revenue diversification.”
He said cities and towns are too dependent on state aid which “continues to be unpredictable.”
He said the budget cuts mean there’s more pressure to reduce services or increase already high property taxes.