Education Funding Tops Agenda of Small Town Officials
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy reassured the Connecticut Council of Small Towns Wednesday that he will be mindful of his budget’s impact on municipalities as he attempts to address a laundry list of shortfalls including the expiration of federal stimulus dollars for education.
“Every step of the way I am concentrating on how do I avoid hurting communities? How do I avoid hurting municipal governments and boards of education? And, by the way, that’s not an easy job,” Malloy told the group gathered in Cromwell.
Malloy recalled the decision made last year by former Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the legislature to supplant the state’s share of education funding with federal stimulus funds which expire this year.
Though Malloy has said he would like to maintain funding for education not all local officials present Wednesday believed him.
Andover First Selectman Robert F. Burbank said he found most of Malloy’s speech encouraging, but wasn’t happy with the language he used when talking about the state’s share of education grants.
“When he says everything is on the table, he made a campaign promise to the towns that he would not touch the education,” Burbank said.
Burbank came close to accusing Malloy of going back on a campaign promise for failing to take a stronger stance on local education grants.
“I think we’re all in a wait and see posture until the governor’s budget is released,” said Windham Town Manager Neal Beets. Malloy’s speech was something of a mixed message, Beets said. A lot of it was reassuring, he said, but some of it was cause for concern. “School funding and education funding, it’s hard to over-emphasize how important they are to us.”
While Malloy seemed to be bracing the group for a budget that will almost certainly include disappointments for many towns, he reminded them that he hasn’t forgotten the challenges of running a local government.
“I do understand what’s going on with local government. I led Stamford as mayor for 14 years and prior to that I was on the board of education for a year and prior to that I was on the board of finance for 11 years. So I’ve got a pretty long, steeped history in local government and understanding a lot of the pressures you’re under,” he said.
Allowing towns to broaden their tax base by allowing them to raise revenue from places other than the property tax is just one of the ways, Malloy proposed helping local officials. But he warned them that increasing revenue through things such as a local hotel tax is no excuse to open the flood gates for future expenditures.
Increasing revenue through different taxes was part of the discussion Wednesday before Malloy arrived. During a panel discussion Rep. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, expressed some doubt about where the additional revenue generated would end up.
“I don’t necessarily favor any additional revenue options for municipalities,” he said. “I don’t think the money is going to go to municipalities. The clearing house for state revenue will be the state of Connecticut and if you believe the state of Connecticut is going to consistently send you that check, I bring you the ECS formula. It is not going to happen ladies and gentleman.”
Miner said the money would be exchanged from one “pocket” to another. There is not a business in the state that is doing well, he told the group and asked if they really wanted to see another layer of taxes added on to one that already exists.
“Until the state of Connecticut begins to make meaningful reductions in its operation, its cost of doing business, I have no reason to believe that that revenue stream will be anything more than a temporary blip for which you will have given up some portion if not all of your ECS funds,” he said.
Sen. President Donald Williams, D-Brookfield, said he is open to the idea of additional revenue sources, which may include hotel taxes or local sales tax, but said allowing 169 towns to adopt their own taxes may unwittingly discourage economic growth. Because each town has a different situation as far as shopping areas and sales, allowing for municipal sales taxes may exasperate the “problem of haves and have-nots.”
“Cities and municipalities that are already doing okay from a tax base point of view because they have significant retail, because they have the shopping malls, they have the hotels etcetera where people spend their money, that allowing them to add on those additional fees will simply increase the revenue that they’re getting based on their larger tax base,” he said, adding that towns without shopping centers will find that additional tax revenues won’t get them anywhere.
Williams encouraged the local leaders to submit ideas on how the state can help municipalities and save money because there will be pain as cuts are made, he said.
“We need your ideas,” he told them. “The easy cuts are gone. They are all gone.”