HARTFORD, CT — Whatever two-year budget is finally approved by the General Assembly, it’s almost certain that a lot less state money will be going to the vast majority of the 169 towns and cities in the state.
And House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, for one, is frustrated with the state legislature taking all the blame for that.
Aresimowicz said Tuesday that legislators are “growing tired of local elected officials demanding that they be kept whole” while Connecticut is dealing with a multi-billion budget deficit.
And when that can’t happen, Aresimowicz added, some town officials can’t wait to blame Hartford — saying “It’s their fault, it’s their fault, it’s their fault.”
The speaker said part of the problem is that some legislators have done such a good job over the past decade-plus of protecting their own legislative districts from budget cuts that the problem has compounded.
“At times municipalities have been able to avoid making difficult decisions because they had real good legislators that go out and fight for their towns,” Aresimowicz said.
He said they’ve kept towns whole largely since 2003.
“We take the blame for everything but we are the ones who are providing that financial security blanket to the towns,” he added.
Asked whether municipal officials were being unrealistic in their financial expectations, Aresimowicz gave a blunt, one word answer: “Yes.”
Then he elaborated.
“It’s unrealistic when the state of Connecticut is facing the fiscal issues we are. We cut almost $900 million last year,” Aresimowicz added. “There’s by many varying degrees $700 million in cuts on the table this year. We’ve reduced state agencies. We’ve reduced state employees. Our state employees are now taking 8 zeros [for pay increases] since 2009, paying more into healthcare.”
Meanwhile, Aresimowicz said, there are “superintendents, town managers” getting healthy pay raises and towns still adding workers to their workforces, while looking to the state to “still keep the money coming.”
Connecticut Conference of Municipalities Executive Director Joe DeLong disputed Aresimowicz’s claims.
“If you exclude K-12 education local general government expenditures in Connecticut ranked 50th out of all states and the District of Columbia,” DeLong said.
Additionally, state and federal payments to local governments “are lower in Connecticut than most other states,” DeLong said.
“These undisputed statistical facts show clearly that local governments are by no means the cause of Connecticut’s fiscal mess,” DeLong said.
He said Aresimowicz’s statements ignore the bipartisan recommendations the municipalities put together, including the ability to levy a local sales tax.
“While these recommendations may not be perfect, they demonstrate an ability to work collectively for the greater good,” DeLong added.
Local elected officials have been pushing back against state budget proposals for months, as both Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the legislature made it clear earlier this year that the state could no longer afford to shell out the type of funding it has in the past — especially to more affluent communities.
Additionally, Malloy’s most recent budget proposal for next year would ask the cities and towns to pay $400 million to fund one-third the cost of the teacher retirement program in the state of Connecticut. Currently, the state picks up the entire cost of the retirement fund.
Malloy appreciated Aresimowicz’s remarks.
“We cannot balance the budget with all the things that everyone wants to take off the list,” Malloy said.
“Something has got to give,” Malloy said, stating municipal aid is the largest single line item, at 20 percent, in the state budget.
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said one good thing that may come out of the current budget mess is that “maybe it sparks conversations” between the town and state leaders, forcing both sides to “think differently.”
He said those conversations may eventually provide budget revisions that will be “good and fair to our towns.”
Christine Stuart contributed to this story.