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Municipal Leaders Lobby For Local Sales Tax, Relief From Mandates

Don Stacom

April 29, 2010

With just a week to go before the end of the General Assembly session, legislators need to do more quickly to help financially struggling municipalities, according to members of the Council of Small Towns.

Dozens of mayors, first selectmen and town managers gathered at the Capitol Wednesday for a last-chance lobbying drive to win votes for a new hotel occupancy tax, a local sales tax and rollbacks of burdensome state mandates.

After swapping complaints about how viciously the recession is squeezing their budgets this year, municipal leaders fanned out through the Capitol to buttonhole their legislators.

Without new revenue and relief from state mandates, communities across the state will face property tax increases this summer, along with service cutbacks and layoffs, several municipal leaders said.

"We're scrambling right now. The state has got to stop taking a Band-Aid approach and deal with this," said Plainville Town Manager Robert Lee, whose municipal budget proposal had been voted down by residents the night before.

COST and its members are pressing the General Assembly to authorize a 1 percent local sales tax, with a third of the revenue going to the state and the rest being divided among towns on a regional basis. They're also pressing for state permission to levy a local hotel occupancy tax and to raise various municipal fees.

State law restricts Connecticut communities to raising most of their income from the property tax, and that system simply isn't holding up during the severe economic downtown, municipal officials said.

One of the top items on their agenda is to defeat the real estate industry's campaign to rescind the property conveyance tax increase, which was passed several years ago as a one-time measure. Towns have pressed every year since then to retain the tax.

"It means $150,000 to $200,000 to Plainville. It makes a substantial difference to us," Lee said.

COST lobbyist Betsy Gara urged town leaders to track down legislators and push them for more help in the coming week.

"We have just seven days and 12 hours," she said. "So far, not one mandate relief option has passed either chamber. We haven't seen one [new] revenue option bill pass either chamber. The bill to postpone the in-school suspension mandate is dead."

House Speaker Chris Donovan, D- Meriden, told COST members that there's still time to make progress before the session ends. He later said that no COST initiative is hopeless while the General Assembly is still in session.

"People are still talking. Nothing is dead everything is on the table," Donovan said.

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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