HARTFORD, CT — Relief from expensive unfunded mandates and its relationship with labor unions were just some of the topics discussed by the governor and the heads of two municipal lobbies Friday.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy met with the leadership from the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) and the Connecticut Council of Small Towns (COST) to discuss the impact that the state budget impasse is having on local communities.
The discussion focused on the topic of mandate relief for towns and cities, but they heads of the two municipal lobbies made it clear their participation in the meeting should not be mischaracterized as support for the governor’s budget proposal.
Joe DeLong, executive director of CCM and Betsy Gara, executive director of COST, said their participation in the meeting should “in no way be misinterpreted as support for the governor’s budget or cuts to municipal aid.”
The governor’s budget would impact municipalities in two separate ways. It would require municipalities to contribute to teacher retirements and would change how the state distributes education aid.
Specifically, DeLong said, he would like to see legislative action taken to allow municipalities to make modifications to town worker retirement system in the way the state did so with the state worker system.
“There are now three or four tiers of retirement levels at the state level,” DeLong said, “while the municipalities are still stuck with the one tier system.”
DeLong added that another issue for municipal leaders is that they sometimes tire of hearing from legislators that towns and cities should be regionalizing services more to save money.
In other to regionalize services, DeLong said, collective bargaining laws need to be changed, at the state level, because it is impossible to get towns in neighboring towns with separate unions to agree to consolidate.
Gara said they appreciate the governor’s efforts, but continue to be concerned about how the cuts in state aid will impact property taxpayers.
Malloy said the longer the state continues to operate without a budget, the tougher it will be on the towns.
He said he plans to, by the end of August, to have a plan in place to disburse money to the state’s town for education funding.
That plan, the governor said, will observe the state’s requirements that a “free public education is a right,” meaning that the state’s poorer cities will be seeing more education funding than they currently receive.
Conversely, that means the state’s more affluent municipalities, will be losing millions of dollars in state funding that will have to be made up by taxpayers in those towns.
DeLong said CCM understands that the state is broke and has tried to push the position that the organization isn’t just concerned about funding for their member towns but believe the overall funding system is broken.
Gara did add, that she’s worried that homeowners in some of COST’s towns would be “at the tipping point” if taxes in their towns went up much more.
Those comments didn’t sit well with Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven.
“For the chief lobbyists of CCM and COST to stand up publicly and declare that they have not and are not asking for towns to be held harmless when it comes to municipal aid is misleading and does not accurately represent the positions of the mayors and first selectmen from whom we have heard,” Looney said.
He said the reason lawmakers have been unable to come to a final budget deal is largely due to the issue of municipal aid.
“If the top lobbyists for the two largest municipal advocacy organizations and their mayors and first selectmen are willing to stand side-by-side with the governor as here news his call to pass his budget and the hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to municipal aid, then it should not be difficult reaching a final budget agreement that slashes aid to cities and towns,” Looney added.
DeLong and Gara issued a joint rebuttal to Looney saying he “mischaracterized” the meeting.
“The press conference today was intended to highlight discussions about the need for mandates relief and greater flexibility on the local level to control costs,” the two said in a joint statement. “Our participation should in no way be misinterpreted as support for the governor’s budget or cuts in municipal aid.”
While they may not have specifically asked the state to hold towns harmless, it doesn’t mean they’re advocating for spending cuts.
“Let me be clear – COST adamantly opposes efforts to cut municipal aid or shift municipal aid from smaller towns to poorer communities,” Gara said in a press release following the meeting.