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Municipal Leaders Reject Rell's Call For Cuts In Aid To Towns, Cities

DON STACOM

December 10, 2009

HARTFORD - Big-city mayors and small-town first selectmen who frequently fight among themselves joined in an emphatic message Wednesday to Gov. M. Jodi Rell: It's time to stop cutting municipal aid.

The panel that Rell appointed to offer strategies for cutting $84 million in municipal aid instead voted overwhelmingly at its second and last meeting to recommend rejecting her idea altogether.

"Municipalities cannot absorb $84 million in midyear cuts. These cuts would cripple local governments," the group said in a statement.

Municipal leaders Republican and Democrat alike declared that the state shouldn't close its budget deficit by slicing grants to communities.

"I can't afford it. It would mean laying off workers," Sprague First Selectwoman Catherine Osten said during a nearly three-hour meeting at the Legislative Office Building.

Rell's staff later issued a statement saying that state aid to municipalities has to be cut.

"Aid to cities and towns has been increased significantly over the past few years, but now everyone must tighten their belts," the statement said. "Gov. Rell has labored to keep aid to municipalities at the same level as the prior year. The simple fact, however, is that the pressure on the state budget is too great. We cannot spend what we do not have."

Acknowledging that Connecticut is in deep financial trouble, the panel of town and city leaders nevertheless said that Rell must balance the budget some other way.

"Who do I go to to say, 'Help me find the revenue I'm short?'" asked First Selectwoman Susan Bransfield of Portland.

The panel co-chairmen Rell's budget director, Robert Genuario, and Administrative Services Commissioner Brenda Sisco both voted against the recommendation. Genuario emphasized that the panel's assignment was to plan how to implement Rell's proposal.

But it was clear early on that the panel wasn't going to go along.

East Hartford Mayor Melody Currey said that in the past several days, she had developed a two-part recommendation for the budget crisis that doesn't touch municipal aid.

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton and Somers First Selectwoman Lisa Pellegrini both Republicans voted alongside Democrats on the panel to endorse Currey's report. Republican Mayor Jason McCoy of Danbury was the only municipal leader to vote with Genuario and Sisco.

"It doesn't seem like anyone is making suggestions on how the state can get through its problems," McCoy said.

Rell is calling the General Assembly into special session Dec. 15 to vote on her package of more than $330 million in emergency spending cuts.

Lawmakers will get the panel's recommendation against municipal aid rollbacks, but also will receive Currey's long list of state mandates that she said should be reviewed next year and perhaps repealed.

The list includes overhaul of the controversial binding arbitration system, revisions to the prevailing-wage law and suspension of the state-imposed Minimum Budget Requirement that keeps communities from reducing school budgets.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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