HARTFORD —— With municipal budgets reeling, cities and towns are hoping for better-than-usual progress this year on waiving some costly state mandates.
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities took its case to a key legislative committee on Monday, asking it to suspend many state-set rules and block new ones.
"We're in an era of a new economy at the federal, state and local level. Some of the things the state has mandated are not sustainable anymore," said James Finley, president of CCM, an organization that lobbies for communities.
CCM told the planning and development committee Monday that communities need immediate help. Lawmakers, however, are considering pushing off the entire topic to a long-term study.
"The committee understands that another task force is not the answer — we need relief now. Don't use a study as an excuse for inaction," Finley said.
"In many cases we just need to suspend these mandates for a few years to give our towns a break," Rep. Whit Betts, R-Bristol, told the committee "For example, if we suspend the mandate that requires professional development days for teachers, I am told Bristol could save $800,000 a year."
Battling mandates is usually an uphill fight at the Capitol. Educators fight moves to reduce school-improvement initiatives, unions defend against retrenchments in labor rules, businesses and other special-interest groups fight anything that targets rules benefiting them. But there's just no choice this year, Betts warned.
"No one is going to like the alternatives to mandate relief: layoffs, tax increases and significant program cuts are just a few examples," he said.
CCM wants a ban on any new mandate unless two-thirds of the General Assembly approves it. It's also asking that towns be allowed to stop paying for legal notices in newspapers, postpone their 2011 and 2012 property revaluations and delay new high school reforms.
"Revaluations cost an average of $200,000," Finley said. "It doesn't make sense to be spending that kind of money when towns are having trouble providing basic services."
Efforts at easing Connecticut's binding arbitration and prevailing wage laws were shot down recently by another legislative committee, but proponents are expected to continue that campaign through the end of the General Assembly's session.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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