The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities applauds Gov. M. Jodi Rell's bold initiatives to dramatically reform education finance, provide property tax relief and embrace smart growth land-use principles.
The governor has dramatically raised the public-policy bar in the Land of Steady Habits.
Gov. Rell proposes a $1.1 billion increase in education cost-sharing aid for local public schools over five years, including a $228 million increase in the cost-sharing funding for next year. The governor also calls for significant new state assistance for responsible growth initiatives, including brownfields remediation, open space acquisition, enhanced funding for regional planning organizations and increased funding for GIS systems and housing needs. And she had the courage to recommend raising taxes to help pay for her proposals.
CCM commends Gov. Rell for her leadership.
Towns and cities are calling upon the General Assembly to show similar leadership and courage.
CCM is urging the legislature to support the governor's education-funding proposal as critical to property tax relief, but phase it in over four, not five years. The legislature should improve upon her other proposals and reject the over $60 million in cuts in non-education grants for towns and cities. We encourage state legislators to closely examine the car-tax proposal, and, if it moves forward, to make the modifications needed to truly benefit local governments and their property taxpayers in the short and long terms.
In addition to the proposed increases in education aid, which would be the largest in a decade, the governor recognized the need to help towns with the unpredictable costs of special education by increasing such aid by nearly $20 million. She would also provide further operating support for magnet schools and the Open Choice school initiative, both of which help reduce racial isolation across Connecticut.
The governor calls for $70 million in new bonding to help pay for sorely needed clean water projects, the highest funding in a decade; although it falls short of meeting the $157 million in needs documented by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
There are, however, some areas where the legislature should improve upon the governor's budget and provide more help to municipalities and property taxpayers. We urge state legislators to restore funding for payments in lieu of taxes for private colleges and hospitals and for state property.
Collectively, these reimbursements for state-mandated property tax exemptions would be cut under her proposal by over $10 million, taking needed funding away from many poor urban centers and towns. Almost $5 million would be cut from the state grant that shares casino revenues with towns and cities.
Legislators should also reject the $8 million cut for town aid for roads. This is a critically needed program for all communities, and especially smaller towns. Legislators should retain the property tax credit on the personal income tax, a valuable way to provide residents with direct property tax relief. And they should reject the governor's call to cut state reimbursements for school construction projects.
Last but not least, the legislature should stand firm and maintain the municipal share of the real estate conveyance tax, which would be cut July 1 without state action. It provides almost $45 million in municipal revenue that is derived from neither the property tax nor state aid. The governor's budget proposal did not address that issue.
Incrementalism and timidity have not cut it in Connecticut. Half-steps have only hurt our quality of life and economic vitality.
The governor has presented a budget with bold initiatives offering long-term solutions to education funding and the beginning of long-term solutions for other state-local issues that have long confounded Connecticut. These initiatives, if combined with improvements in non-education aid, can set a new high-water mark in the relationship between the state and local governments.
The legislature must not fail to take advantage of this once-in-a-decade opportunity to relieve property taxpayers of the burden of funding education. Municipal leaders are ready to work with state legislators and the governor in the weeks and months ahead to make it happen. We will stand with them as they make the tough taxing and other decisions needed to get it done.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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