Municipal leaders think Malloy overstepped in cutting their aid

Municipal leaders are asking the governor's budget director for an explanation of how he was able to cut state funding they were expecting mid-year since they believe state law forbids such a move.

"I've never seen so many cuts to categories we see as municipal aid," said James Finley, the executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. "The General Assembly was very clear where the governor had unilateral authority to cut, and that didn't include municipal aid."

Malloy's $4.7 million in cuts to municipal programs were part of a $123 million deficit-reduction package his administration announced two weeks ago.

In a letter to Benjamin Barnes, Malloy's budget director, Finley outlines the areas of funding cities and towns were depending on from the state. Those include $577,00 for school-based health clinics, $1 million for low-income school districts and $2 million for magnet schools.

Barnes said during an interview that, "These cut are within our authority."

Barnes said the administration believes they have the authority to cut programs that do not go to aid the "majority or all" municipalities.

"That's always been our interpretation of the statute," he said.

Barnes also said that he doesn't believe the cuts will impact cities and towns because the cuts were made to programs that were expecting surpluses. For example, magnet schools had lower enrollment that budgeted for so the $2 million cut can be realized without negatively impacting those districts budgets. The $1 million cut to low-income districts comes from under-enrollment in state-funded preschool programs.

Under current law, the governor has limited authority to unilaterally reduce many budget accounts by up to 5 percent, though municipal aid cannot be touched. Malloy asked the legislature last year to give him unilateral authority to cut municipal aid by up to 2 percent, but Democratic legislators were not supportive.

Sen. Edith G. Prague, D-Columbia, a veteran member of the Appropriations Committee, said at the time, "I don't care who's sitting in the governor's office... Once the legislature decides what the town aid is going to be, that's it. The towns count on those numbers."

Finley said during an interview that these cuts should be restored until the legislature imposes them.

"The legislature was not willing to give the governor unilateral authority to go back into municipal aid and cut without legislative authority," he said.

The legislature is coming back into session Dec. 19 in an attempt to close the projected budget deficit.