Municipal aid is at stake in Malloy’s talks with labor

A central promise of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's proposed budget--maintaining state aid to municipalities--comes with a big asterisk: The pledge depends on the success of the administration's continuing concession talks with labor.

"All the assumptions will have to be re-examined, because he is committed to producing a balanced budget with no gimmicks, and if the savings don't materialize there are only so many places to go for money," said Roy Occhiogrosso, a senior adviser. "Municipal aid is one of those places."

James J. Finley, the executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, which is trying to rally local officials behind Malloy's budget, said he understands that the $2.8 billion in state aid to municipalities is not safe if the concession talks fail.

"Towns and cities certainly have a stake in the success of those labor negotiations," Finley said. "The irony is if the labor unions don't come to the table in good faith and provide a good chunk of what Malloy is looking for, their local affiliates will pay the price."

Finley said sharp cuts in aid would guarantee teacher layoffs in many municipalities. About two-thirds of state aid to municipalities comes through the Education Cost Sharing program, which Malloy is promising to fund at the same level as this year.

Representing both state and local workers, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and CSEA/SEIU Local 2001 are two of the unions caught between the municipalities and state.

"All of our members understand that the stakes are high for all of our members and all working class families in this state," said Matt O'Connor, a spokesman for CSEA/SEIU, which represents nearly 5,000 state employees and 6,000 public workers in dozens of local municipalities, school districts, and regional education centers.

CSEA/SEIU and AFSCME are key players in the coalition of unions now discussing concessions and labor savings with the Malloy administration, which is seeking $1 billion in labor savings in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The number is almost double what New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo obtained from his much larger work force as part of that state's recently approved budget.

A comparison between his budget and Cuomo's is part of the talking points now employed by Malloy, who has four more town-hall meetings on the budget, beginning Monday in Norwalk.

Malloy has suffered by the comparison on the only measure that matters to some taxpayers: Malloy's tax increase is $1.5 billion; Cuomo's is zero.

But Cuomo is cutting school aid by $2.85 billion and other local aid by $1.8 billion. Malloy is maintaining school aid and cutting other local aid, according to CCM's calculations, by $56 million.

CCM is organizing a lobbying effort on behalf of Malloy's budget for April 13, the next day the legislature is in session.

"We're galvanizing municipal officials across the state to be here," Finley said. "We are going to heighten our public-relations advocacy. We understand what is at stake here."

In an email to members, Finley said, "Unlike his colleagues from New York, New Jersey and across the country, Governor Malloy refused to balance the state budget on the backs of municipalities and their residential and business property taxpayers."

The union view is not much different.

"He's not just sparring with Gov. Cuomo now. He is drawing the real distinctions. We have issues with the governor's budget, as you know," O'Connor said, noting the unions believe Malloy's tax increases fall too heavily on the middle class. "But he got a lot of things right. One of the things he got right, he is not pushing the pain onto municipalities and schools, like is happening in New York."

 

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