The following is a letter from Connecticut Conference of Municipalities executive director, Joe DeLong in reference to the State of CT budget.
As many of you are aware last Friday, I, along with COST Director Betsy Gara, met with Governor Malloy at the Governor’s invitation.
The primary purpose of the meeting was to discuss mandates relief and other cost control initiatives relating to areas such as public education, municipal retirement, and service delivery.
Following the meeting there was a press briefing. At the press briefing the Governor indicated a municipal desire to be “held harmless.” It was at this point I interjected that “hold harmless” was not a position that has been taken by CCM.
For too many years the General Assembly has dismissed municipal leaders as being “whiners” or our organization as being the “Council of Crying Mayors.” The term “hold harmless” has been used against us time and again signifying that we only come with our hands out and don’t want to be part of solutions.
Your legislative agenda is much broader and deeper than that! Of course we will do everything in our power to protect communities from slashes in aid. However, we also put forth a proactive agenda recognizing that the General Assembly shouldn’t claim victory by preserving the status quo. We need true municipal reforms in the areas of cost, service delivery and municipal revenue diversification. This is the message crafted by our membership and codified by our Board of Directors. It was our message the first day of session and remains our message today.
To be clear, the following is a brief outline of the budget proposals to date:
Governor Malloy – Budget would preserve the broken system of funding municipal services solely through property taxes. The proposal redistributes funding but does little to reform the system in a way that would provide for growth and opportunity at the local level. State gets out of a jam it created by shifting responsibility for teacher’s retirement off onto the towns and cities.
House Democrat Budget – Takes a “hold harmless” approach for cities and towns. The proposal mirrors what was done two years ago in the creation of the MERSA account by raising the state sales tax on the promise that new revenues would go to cities and towns to replace revenues that are being cut (this is not the local sales tax cities and towns had asked for). The proposal changes the paradigm very little in terms of local cost control or service delivery. Instead of reforming the property tax structure, it raises new revenues to maintain the status quo.
House & Senate Republican Proposals – Took a “hold harmless” approach. Brought the budget into balance based off of additional projected labor savings. Now that SEBAC has been finalized these proposals are no longer in balance. Proposal did nothing to reform the property tax structure. Its objective was to avoid reforms to the current municipal system by maintaining state aid through no longer attainable state labor concessions.
In addition to “hold harmless” the other popular buzz word being thrown around by the Governor and General Assembly is “structural reform.” The legislative agenda developed by towns and cities outlines a great deal of structural reforms that the General Assembly can enact at the local level. To date, while various budgets have addressed structural reform at the state level, none of these budget proposals have addressed the badly needed reforms that have been called for by cities and towns.
Let me conclude with this: We are not laying down. We are not giving in. We are not going to accept ill-advised proposals from the Governor or any caucus of the General Assembly that hurt our towns and cities. We also will not have our legislative positions defined by buzzwords that do not adequately reflect our concerns, desires and ideas. What we will do is work with the Governor or any caucus of the General Assembly that express a desire to work with us in a collaborative way.