So much for tradition: CCM praises aid levels

They used to be known as the Caucus of Crying Mayors, so reliably did the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities show up at the State Capitol to bemoan inadequate state aid or unfunded mandates.

Not this year. In the midst of a national budget meltdown that has prompted other governors to slash local aid, CCM on Thursday was the Conference of Complimenting Mayors with regard to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget.

“CCM appreciates that Gov. Malloy made municipalities – and their property taxpayers – a priority in his budget proposal, particularly in the context of the unprecedented economic difficulties faced by the state,” said Mary Glassman, the conference president.

Glassman, the first selectman of Simsbury, was one of nearly a dozen municipal officials who largely praised Malloy’s budget at a special Appropriations Committee forum for mayors and first selectmen.

Malloy, who was mayor of Stamford for 14 years, kept a campaign commitment not to balance the state budget by cutting local aid. He is reallocating $270 million to make up a shortfall in education funding, the biggest aid program.

It sends $1.9 billion in education aid to cities and towns annually. Total municipal aid is $2.8 billion, about 15 percent of the state budget. For a state facing a $3.2 billion deficit, it is a tempting target.

James Finley, the executive director of CCM, said few, if any, other governors are resisting the urge to cut aid. As reported this week in The New York Times, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is cutting aid to New York City by $302 million, and Moody’s Investors Service reported that widespread aid reductions could make this the toughest year for municipalities since the economic downturn began.

“When I talk to colleagues in other states about aid to towns and cities, Connecticut pretty much stands alone,” Finley said.

The municipalities have raised one significant complaint: the Malloy administration proposed eliminating a $47 million program that reimbursed cities and towns for a property-tax break on manufacturing equipment.

While the program is small, its elimination would have a disparate impact on older manufacturing communities. East Hartford would lose nearly $3.6 million, while the cut would cost Bristol and Waterbury $2 million each.

The administration is trying to find the funds to minimize the impact on those towns.

Barbara Henry, the first selectman of Roxbury and the president of the Council of Small Towns, said she, too, was pleased with Malloy’s aid package, but she urged legislators to consider easing some mandates on towns.

Henry suggested that municipalities be given more flexibility on construction projects. On renovations costing more than $100,000 and new construction above $400,000, towns must meet the requirements of the prevailing wage law.

Those thresholds have not risen in 20 years, she said.

Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, said the thresholds still are higher than neighboring Rhode Island and Massachusetts.