Governor kept his promise to towns; now let’s cut mandates

The motto of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns is, “We’re working to keep small towns strong.” To this end, COST analyzes policies being considered at the Capital with several questions in mind:

  • Will they make Connecticut’s 139 smaller communities, those suburban and rural towns under 30,000 in population, better places in which to live and work?
  • Are they fair and will they improve essential public services in our towns?
  • What are their implications for all municipalities – small and big – and the state of Connecticut?

It is through this prism that I’d like to comment on Governor Malloy’s proposed biennial budget, which he presented today to a joint session of the Connecticut General Assembly. First and foremost, I believe the Governor should be congratulated for presenting a budget that avoided “balancing the state’s budget on the backs of our local taxpayers”.

We’re very pleased the Governor held firm to his commitment to continue state aid for K-12 education at current levels. While many towns will still have a hard time making ends meet (given built-in cost escalators like wage and benefit increases for teachers as a result of contracts and binding arbitration), cuts in state education aid could have had a catastrophic impact on schools, kids and local taxpayers.

His budget also maintains non-education municipal aid, which helps fund local road improvements, police and fire protection and other essential public services. Cuts in these grants would have had significant negative impacts on many towns that otherwise would have been forced to make more cuts in services and/or raise local property taxes.

We wish the Governor would have proposed reducing, eliminating or freezeing a wide variety of unfunded state mandates on municipalities–something COST and others have recommended. Towns need such “tools” to lower the cost of local government operations–especially during tough economic times. Perhaps the Administration will make such proposals in a separate legislative package.

When Governor Malloy addressed COST members during their annual legislative conference a few weeks ago, he promised municipal leaders they would have a “seat at the table” in his Administration to help shape high-priority municipal policies. He made it clear then, and today, he’s going to put the word “local” back into the term “state-local partnership,” something that’s been absent far too long. We look forward to working with the Governor and the Legislature on some of the very tough challenges facing “hometown Connecticut”.

Bart Russell is executive director of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns

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