Despite much of the rhetoric that’s out there, let’s acknowledge that Connecticut is a great place to live. We have natural beauty. Many of our school systems are top notch. And it’s hard to drive in any direction for more than 30 minutes without running into authentic American history. Our state has tremendous assets.
However, we are still beset with real challenges.
As the entity responsible for advocating for Connecticut’s 169 towns and cities, it is clear that the uncertainty coming out of Washington, coupled with the state’s financial problems as depicted in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s recent budget proposal, means local leaders can’t rely on the same levels of financial assistance that have traditionally been available.
But nor can they simply turn to the property tax for help; our property taxes are among the highest in the nation, and local taxpayers are already stretched way too thin.
So what can be done? A lot, actually. Beginning with finding a new way forward.
That’s why the report CCM released in late January is so important; it’s indeed different. It contains new ideas that, if implemented, will help free towns and cities from the vagaries of state aid, and the harsh burden of the regressive property tax. This report provides a roadmap for municipalities to have greater control over their own destinies: new decision-making authority, new sources of funding. Together, that would allow them to rely more on themselves and less on others.
As local leaders delve deeper into their budget season, most of them are scurrying to find a plan of action — or an alternative aid scenario — to deal with Gov. Malloy’s new budget proposal; one that that takes significant amounts of state funding away from most Connecticut communities — 138 — while targeting additional funding toward the neediest cities and older suburbs.
The Governor has opened the door to a vital conversation that will take place in the weeks and months ahead. However, the stark public education winners and losers — a time when the Education Cost Formula is underfunded by over $600 million — is untenable. CCM is committed to enacting sustainable change that helps all communities.
Governor Malloy’s proposed changes to the Teachers Retirement System would require towns to contribute almost $1 billion over two years; that is tantamount to a $1 billion bill to property taxpayers across Connecticut. Such a colossal cost transfer — even given the current fiscal realities and the need to look at all areas of state and local spending — only reinforces the urgency to enact the structural changes needed to give municipalities new tools to provide relied-on local services. Revenue diversification is an idea whose time has come. The overwhelming number of other states use it as a tool to constrain property taxes.
For nine months, 21 municipal CEOs across all demographics met and discussed the challenges facing the state and its towns and cities, and a sustainable path forward. The proposals contained in the CCM report entitled This Report is Different — Securing the Future: Service Sharing and Revenue Diversification for Connecticut Municipalities, could now easily be entitled This Report Is Better.
CCM commends Governor Malloy for proposing a credible and wide-ranging mandates relief package that would provide fiscal relief to towns and cities. He also proposes reallocating a portion of ECS grants to a new initiative to pick up a greater share of local special education costs. Importantly, the governor’s budget would maintain an existing initiative to share sales tax receipts with municipalities.
Towns and cities have long worked cooperatively to achieve efficiencies, while providing quality services. But such efforts are often thwarted by existing policies and practices. This must change. The report makes necessary recommendations, such as:
(a) Removing service sharing arrangements as a subject of collective bargaining;
(b) Changing state law so that interlocal agreements or service sharing contracts involving two or more municipalities will override any participating municipality’s charter, and;
(c) Revitalizing the Connecticut Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations and charge it with identifying services that are currently duplicated by the State and its municipalities.
This report contains the necessary structural changes to help towns from Bozrah to Bridgeport thrive. You may read about them completely here.
Here are a few other examples:
Create a labor relations task force to systematically review and recommend updates for Connecticut’s municipal labor laws and dispute resolution processes; Modify the state-mandated compulsory binding arbitration laws; Amend the Municipal Employee Retirement System (MERS) to establish an additional retirement plan for new hires.
The CCM panel has identified long-needed opportunities for revenue diversification to help relieve the burden on property taxpayers. Communities must be given the flexibility to use alternative revenue sources to meet pressing financial needs and/or grant property tax relief. They need policy changes that would result in greater revenue flexibility at the local level and generally less reliance on state aid.
There are many clichés that come to mind when thinking about the challenges our towns and cities face. Maybe the most appropriate one is this: in crisis, there is opportunity. An opportunity to try things that are new and different. An opportunity to think outside the box — to bring the State along the path that leads to greater and shared prosperity.
Local leaders in Connecticut stand ready to make tough decisions. We have talked ad nauseam about Connecticut’s great albatross — crushing property taxes. Now is the time for action. The CCM report is that pathway for self-reliant and sustainable communities to develop new solutions to the State’s and municipalities’ challenges.
Wouldn’t that be a welcome change?
Joe DeLong is the Executive Director of CCM, which is Connecticut’s largest nonpartisan, statewide association of towns and cities, representing 158 member municipalities. CCM’s goal is to improve everyday life for every Connecticut residents by sharing best practices and objective research to help our local leaders govern wisely. CCM advocates at the state level for issues affecting local taxpayers, and pools its buying power to negotiate more cost-effective services for communities.
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