Joe DeLong
Connecticut Conference of Municipalities Executive Director Joe DeLong unveils an April 2023 ad campaign. Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

A lobby group for Connecticut towns and cities announced Thursday a month-long ad campaign meant to ratchet up pressure on Gov. Ned Lamont and the legislature to accelerate increases in state education support to municipalities.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities made a $100,000 ad-buy to run commercials on the state’s broadcast television networks and social media platforms. One TV spot describes an inequitable school funding system which relies too heavily on local property tax.

“Not all our towns and cities can provide the same opportunities. There’s legislation to fix that by having the state provide more resources for our schools,” the ad’s narrator says over a photo of a sad-looking young girl. “Please support it or look her in the eyes and tell her, ‘Sorry, you don’t get the same chance at success.’”

The campaign is meant to build support for legislation to boost education cost sharing grants by roughly $300 million more than their current funding levels. Last week, the legislature’s Appropriations Committee provided a $50 million increase over a proposal from the governor, but even that figure fell well short of the funding sought by towns and cities. 

During a Thursday morning press conference at the state Capitol, municipal leaders called on policymakers to ensure that more education funding is approved in the state budget. 

The ECS accelerations are meant to balance out inequalities in school funding across the state. Municipalities’ reliance on property taxes to raise revenue leaves towns with smaller tax bases with less money to spend on education despite the higher tax burdens of their residents.

“By increasing funding, it will allow all of us to thrive,” New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker said. “We’ve got to get that money across the finish line because every child deserves an equal opportunity and a high quality education and the fact is that’s just not happening today.”

In 2017, state lawmakers approved a formula increasing the grants for under-funded towns and scaling it back for over-funded towns over the course of 10 years. This year’s bill speeds up the funding increases. 

However, the ECS funding acceleration is just one of many priorities competing for state support in budget negotiations against the backdrop of a projected $3 billion surplus that is nonetheless constrained by a state spending cap.

Legislators responded to Lamont’s budget recommendations with proposals of their own. A tax plan advanced by the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee moved around $400 million out from under the spending cap, largely to boost state aid to municipalities. Last week, Lamont condemned those accounting tactics as gimmicks, which he pledged to avoid. 

During a separate press conference on Thursday, House Speaker Matt Ritter told reporters that he was supportive of the bill to boost ECS funding but said budget negotiations were both ongoing and dependent on outstanding factors including next week’s consensus revenue projections and an expected budget proposal from legislative Republicans. 

Ritter suggested that even a budget that moves some spending off budget may find broad support if it contains enough popular elements. 

Matt Ritter and Jason Rojas
House Speaker Matt Ritter and Majority Leader Jason Rojas during a press availability on April 27, 2023 Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

“You put on the board a budget that puts another $200 million into nonprofits, mental health services, Medicaid increases and higher ed, and in that same budget you pass the largest tax decrease since the mid-1990s,” Ritter said. “If you want to vote against that, go ahead but you have to explain to your constituents why.”

House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said Republicans were also looking to find a way to provide more funding for towns to support education, though he did not want to see scheduled decreases in funding for towns considered to be historically over-funded go into effect this year. 

“We want to make sure that in a year where we have a surplus, that we do hold towns harmless and that we also have an opportunity to increase the funding levels through the formula for all districts,” Candelora said. 

Chris Collibee, spokesman for the governor’s budget office, issued a statement in response to the CCM event which touted financial investments the Lamont administration had made in education, including boosts in funding to cities and towns. 

“We will continue to work with our partners in the legislature and local leaders to provide cities and towns with the financial resources they need to deliver essential services, including education, public safety, housing, and transportation,” Collibee said.