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This report was updated at 12:45 on February 11 correcting a mis-quote from Rep. Mitch Bolinsky
Upon being contacted for reactions to Governor Dannel Malloy’s 2017 Budget proposal that was floated just before noon February 8, First Selectman Pat Llodra was as exasperated as the School Superintendent Joseph V. Erardi, Jr, and members of Newtown’s legislative delegation.
“The magnitude is so great that I am struggling even to grasp its possibility,” she replied in an e-mail that contained references to specific state cuts that, if rendered, would “be very impactful to Newtown.”
Gov Malloy unveiled a $40.6 billion two-year budget Wednesday that seeks $1.5 billion in labor concessions, imposes $400 million of annual pension costs on municipalities, and reorganizes the financial relationship between the state, communities, and hospitals.
The Connecticut Mirror (ctmirror.org) reports the governor also would increase taxes by close to $200 million, scaling back income tax credits for the middle class and working poor, and boosting the cigarette levy by 45 cents per pack. The plan, which would spend $20.1 billion next fiscal year and $20.5 billion in 2018-19, would eliminate major projected deficits totaling $3.6 billion over the coming biennium.
Dr. Erardi said the timing of the Governor’s proposal was particularly unfortunate.
“The timing of the message as it aligns with local decision making equates to a level of turbulence that every community in Connecticut will experience like never before,” he said.
Dr. Erardi said, “resolving or attempting to resolve Connecticut’s urban city concerns is admirable, but it is clearly being done on the backs of communities like Newtown who have had strong government and strong fiscal managers.
“I ask myself how can I have my voice, my colleagues voice, our elected officials voice be heard as I wait for the State Department of Education and our Commissioner of Education to lead advocacy with a strong and meaningful voice for children,” Dr. Erardi said.
State Representative JP Sredzinski, whose 112th District covers a number of southerly Newtown neighborhoods, was a bit more succinct: “In a word, I am frustrated.” Freshman Second District Representative Will Duff simply stated, “Make no mistake; the governor’s budget is a de facto tax increase on Newtown residents,” and called the governor’s proposal at least at his constituents’ level, “unacceptable!”
Representative Mitch Bolinsky also minced no words over the governor’s first pitch, calling it a “doomsday budget” that “raids and pillages” Newtown, punishing the community and its leadership for years of astute fiscal management by “pulling a Robin Hood — stealing from the people who are taking care of their finances to pay for those that haven’t.”
Senator Tony Hwang, whose 28th District also encompasses Newtown, issued a more detailed statement saying: “On Feb. 8, the governor told the state he wants to ‘give taxpayers, communities, and businesses more predictability and more sustainability.’ Unfortunately, the governor’s budget proposal does not back up that claim,” Sen Hwang said. “It is balanced on the backs of towns and every local property taxpayer,” and “on the backs of our children and grandchildren.”
Pivoting toward any light he could find in the proposal, Sen Hwang said, “The good news is that the governor’s speech is just the first step in the process. Our new balance of power in the state senate will allow Democrats and Republicans to sit down and deal with this budget deficit in a thoughtful, responsible way,” and call for “true long-term sustainability and predictability.”
Sen Hwang said he will continue working to honor a “commitment to make our towns’ education mission whole; emphasize the need to protect vital services for our most vulnerable residents; and involve measures to create the business ecosystem needed to retain and grow good Connecticut jobs.”
Mrs Llodra said she is calling not only Newtown’s legislative delegation, but local “board and commission members, and concerned residents to join together in an effort against the draconian measures suggested by the governor’s proposal.”
“Stability and growth in Newtown will be irreparably harmed, delayed, and maybe set back for years if this proposal prevails,” Mrs Llodra said. “I understand the challenges faced by our cities and accept that we all have a stake in the solution. However, destroying the financial underpinnings of selected towns in order to help our cities will not solve their problems, and will only exacerbate ours.”
Both Reps Sredzinski and Duff ripped the governor’s idea of delivering Newtown taxpayers an instantaneous $4.8 million in state aid reductions, primarily impacting the education side of the local budget.
“A big part of it is he wants cities and towns to pick up part of the cost of teacher pensions,” Rep Sredzinski said.
Rep Duff railed against the education cuts as well.
“The taxpayers of Newtown are tapped out, yet today we heard from the governor that Newtown will be forced to pay for more of its education costs, to the tune of an additional $3,924,256 in 2018,” he said.
Rep Bolinsky said he was heading home with a massive budget book in his briefcase, with a lingering concern that Gov Malloy’s budget message was unmercifully hard on communities like Newtown, which maintains good financial management that typically rewards the community with AAA borrowing rates, even though the town is not uniformly AAA-rated by all three bond rating agencies.
“Somebody that handles their finances as well as Newtown is being penalized for that,” Rep Bolinsky said. “But the rubber will meet the road in appropriations where JP and I sit. If there is any up side, these budgets never go forward as proposed. Usually with him, it’s the most harmful and offensive cuts in his budget. And we walk them back to serve the needs of our community. This will not stand.”
Reps Bolinsky and Sredzinski were both frustrated over promises that were widely made by the governor to various state groups and the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities in recent days touting a plan to eliminate or relax certain locally costly mandates, and barely received a whisper in Wednesday’s budget address.
“He did say the state was going to ease restrictions on mandates, but there were no specifics,” Rep Sredzinski lamented. He also was shocked about the mention of $700 million per year in state union concessions and reductions, that Rep Sredzinski said “were never identified or negotiated.”
According to Gov Malloy’s budget director Ben Barnes, the administration’s backup plan would be to seek at least 4,200 additional layoffs.
Significant cuts to mental health services is also a concern to Rep Sredzinski, again, because of any lack of specifics — and as an emergency services worker in his career position, he was very unhappy with proposed cuts to the state fire training school.
The property tax credit is also on the block to be eliminated, Rep Sredzinski said, while a commitment for $250 million in bonding for Hartford’s XL Center renovations is “unacceptable.”
There was also $75 million the governor alluded to for towns and cities for what Rep Sredzinski said was “negotiations.”
“To me that clearly indicates he is looking to reward towns, or using it to convince towns through [financial] arm twisting to get support for his budget as it goes down the line,” Rep Sredzinski said. “There’s some really clear favoritism and wiggle room in the budget for towns who support this budget going forward.”
There was also virtually no mention of fostering the regionalization of services among towns, which was being promoted by the governor as recently as last year to help reduce local taxpayer burdens, as well as certain state costs.
Biggest Winner: Hartford
Besides the $250 million XL Center bonding commitment, the Connecticut Mirror reports that among 11 impoverished communities standing to gain more than $10 million each if provisions of the governor’s proposed budget are adopted Hartford would get the biggest boost at $47.3 million next year, a 17 percent increase.
Other big winners would include Waterbury (a $43 million increase), New Britain ($28.2 million), Bridgeport ($19.1 million), and New Haven ($16.6 million). Newtown would be among the 137 towns receiving reductions — from $7,821,840 in 2017 down to $2,927,179 in 2018.
Metrics provided by CTMirror state that Newtown’s proposed Education Cost Sharing (ESC) grant would drop from $4,893,944 in 2017 to $969,688 in both 2018 and 2019, representing a $3,924,256 shift onto local taxpayers. That would be countered with a proposed Special Education grant totaling $2,408,508 annually beginning in 2018, leaving the town to fill a $1,515,748 gap.
And while the 2018 liability for Newtown’s share of teacher pensions is a whopping $3,917,100 for 2018, it begins creeping upward to $4,044,406 in 2019.
Even while Newtown’s paltry Adult Education Grant would be funded at $4,497 next year, it would also drop by another $443 by 2019.
Other points in the budget proposal include:
*The governor recommends a net state tax increase of $205 million next fiscal year.
*Income credits for middle income and poor households are scaled back.
*Cigarette taxes rise 45 cents per pack and other tobacco taxes rise, from $3.90 to $4.35 per pack.
A host of miscellaneous fee and penalties changes would raise $56 million more next fiscal year and $96 million in 2018-19. These involve: gun permits; criminal history record checks; record filing; cremation services; urgent care center licensing; boosting the carbonated bottle deposits (which grow from 5 cents to 10 cents); and civil fines for health care facilities, CTMirror reports.
Removing the property tax credit would cost about 874,000 middle-class income tax filers a total of $105 million per year, according to nonpartisan analysts.
The governor’s plan also calls for reducing the estate and gift tax in three steps starting in 2019 by changing income thresholds. This would save taxpayers $20 million in the second year of the new biennium.
The budget proposal does not recommend tolls, gasoline tax hikes, or any other major revenue initiative to fund Gov Malloy’s long-term plan to rebuild the state’s transportation infrastructure. Mr Barnes said the governor remains determined not to have that debate until after legislators approve a constitutional “lockbox” amendment to safeguard those funds.
All Newtown delegation members encouraged Newtown constituents to reach out to them with any questions they may have about the governor’s proposal.
Connecticut Mirror content from Keith Phaneuf and Jacqueline Rabe Thomas was used in this report.