Towns And Cities Plead With State Not To Cut Aid Payments
By DON STACOM
January 07, 2013
HARTFORD —— Before the governor proposes a budget or legislators start changing it, the chief lobbyist for Connecticut's municipalities is issuing a plea: Don't cut aid to towns and cities.
"The first words in our legislative priorities is 'do no harm,'" James Finley, executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said Monday. "When you cut municipal aid, you're just raising the property tax. We're asking the governor and the General Assembly not to turn the clock back."
With the economy still turbulent and the state's financial situation looking sour, the lobbying group wants to get its message out before the budget skirmishes break out at the Capitol later this winter.
CCM circulated a six-page brochure Monday that calls on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the General Assembly to preserve the grants that help pay for local education, road repairs and other services. The state expects to pay more than $2.9 billion in aid this year, Malloy's administration has suggested that amount might have to decrease to close a deficit next year that's projected at more than $1 billion.
"I don't think you can cut your way out of this deficit without harming municipal aid and projects that help the most vulnerable citizens," Finley said.
CCM's wish list includes hundreds of millions of additional dollars for schools, but the organization acknowledges that new spending initiatives for 2013-14 won't get much support. The group also advocates rolling back state requirements that put municipal labor contracts to binding arbitration, force municipalities to buy legal ads for public notices, and set workers' wages on most public construction projects.
The top item on CCM's agenda is to keep the roughly $1.9 billion in state education aid from falling. Towns and cities spend an average of 62 percent of their budgets on schools, and would have to push that figure even higher if the state pulls back, he said.
Most at risk are poor cities that rely heavily on state help. New London is among the communities most concerned.
"We're in a very tight situation. Last year we had our largest-ever single-year reduction of our workforce — 15 percent," Mayor Justin Finizio said. "We increased taxes and we cut spending.
"The state and Gov. Malloy went a long way to helping us, and we have a real opportunity to start turning the corner next year. But if the state were to reduce aid, that could push New London off our own mini-cliff," Finizio said. "We could run the fund balance to zero, or face technical insolvency or double-digit tax increases."
Malloy is expected to propose a two-year budget next month, and the General Assembly will likely spend months debating and amending it before voting.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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