HARTFORD, CT—Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Democratic legislative leaders told the head of the largest municipal lobby Monday that they want to see if they can help cities and towns delay their budget process and avoid possibly overtaxing or undertaxing their residents.
“We have heard and understand the anxiety expressed by local leaders over the timing of municipal aid assumptions and budget adoptions, especially when there is a long session and so many changes have been and will continue to be put on the table for consideration,” Malloy and legislative leaders wrote to Connecticut Conference of Municipalities CEO Joe DeLong. ”To that end, we would like to work with CCM and its members on potential changes to existing statutes to give municipalities more time to adopt budgets, as well as expedited adoption of grand lists.”
In a phone interview Monday, DeLong estimated they will have a better idea about whether this can be done within the next week to 10 days.
Windsor Town Manager Peter Souza said its charter dictates that tax bills must be sent out by the middle of June and it takes a few weeks to print those bills, so Windsor must have a budget that’s been approved by its voters by the end of May. That means, the Town Council adopts a budget at the end of April and they usually hold a budget referendum the second Tuesday in May.
DeLong said the legislation they’re looking to pass would supersede the town charters and relieve municipalities of those deadlines in the short-term.
DeLong said the problem with the governor’s budget, which makes several changes to municipal aid formulas and funding, is that municipalities run the risk of overtaxing or undertaxing their residents.
“If the towns move forward with a budget now, they risk overtaxing their residents,” DeLong said. “If they take a more cautious approach … they run the risk of having to do a supplemental tax bill.”
Neither scenario is desirable for state or local officials.
“We believe that providing municipalities a chance to have more concrete information on state-provided aid before making local decisions is a reasonable and appropriate measure to explore together,” Malloy and legislative leaders wrote.
Souza said he’s not surprised Malloy would considering helping out municipalities. Malloy was the mayor of Stamford for 14 years before running for governor and understands the plight of local elected officials.
Malloy’s background is a big reason why he largely held cities and towns harmless his first six years in office. However, with revenues continuing to underperform, services being cut, and employees being laid off there were few other places Malloy could turn to close a two-year $3.6 billion deficit.
Over the past 17 years of working in local government in Connecticut, Souza said the governor’s budget is probably the hardest he’s had to consider because it changes so many municipal aid categories.
In Connecticut, the governor proposes a two-year budget on the first Wednesday in February and the legislature’s Appropriations and Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee have until the end of April to propose a budget. At that point negotiations between the governor’s staff and lawmakers begins.
However, this year, for the first time in more than a decade those conversations may also include Republican lawmakers.
Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, and House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said the state should focus on getting its budget passed.
“Rather than asking 169 towns and cities with various unique situations to change their schedules, we believe lawmakers at the Capitol need to commit to doing our jobs and focusing our full attention on solidifying a budget together as soon as possible,” Fasano and Klarides said.
They said asking towns to delay their budgets would create significant challenges and confusion in towns across the state.
“Rather than spending time trying to negotiate acceptable language for changes to local charters, we believe our towns and cities would be better served if that time was dedicated to working on the budget together so that municipalities could more quickly get the answers that they count on every year,” Fasano and Klarides wrote in a letter to Malloy.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, was left scratching his head over Republican’s response.
“It’s hard to understand how providing towns and cities with better information as they seek to set their budgets is a bad thing; however, it seems the Republicans have spent so long voting ‘no’ on every budget-related matter that they are unable to agree to even the most common-sense proposal to help local taxpayers,” Looney said.
With more people in the room this year, negotiations over the state budget are likely to take longer and be a little more adversarial.
State lawmakers like to wait until after April 15 to approve a budget because that’s when state and federal income taxes are due.
It’s not until after April 15 that the state has a more accurate revenue picture on which to build its budget.
This year’s Appropriations Committee deadline is April 27 and April 28 for the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee.
It’s unclear how much sooner the state would be able to come up with a budget proposal for municipalities to use as a basis for their local budget.