City and town leaders learned Thursday how much less the state will be sending their municipalities for education and construction projects for the fiscal year that ends July 1.
The $50 million in midyear cuts announced Thursday afternoon by the governor’s budget office come after the legislature adopted a budget with $20 million in unassigned cuts to municipalities and $30 million from grants for local construction projects.
While every town is touched by the reductions announced Thursday, the cuts to education largely fall on the state’s wealthiest communities. For example, Greenwich, the state’s most affluent community, will loose $1.3 million, a 90 percent cut to its Education Cost Sharing grant. The state’s poorest community, Hartford, will lose $250,000, a 0.1 percent cut in education aid. (See town-by-town breakdown below)
However, this $20 million mid-year cut in education aid comes in addition to the $84 million cut to education in the adopted state budget for the current fiscal year. Those cuts largely fell on the state’s most impoverished school districts.
Even with the cuts announced Thursday, several communities still come out ahead on state education aid from the previous year. West Hartford fares the best, with a $1.1 million increase over last year. (See below for a town-by-town run-down).
Although the poorest communities were largely spared from the education cuts announced Thursday, not so with reductions in the Local Capital Improvement Program. Those are expected to land heavily on poor communities. For example, Hartford is expected to lose $1.9 million while Greenwich is hit for $320,000.
In letters to leaders of the General Assembly, the governor’s budget director said his office had no choice but to make these cuts, given the $50 million built-in hole in the adopted state budget. (Read the letters here and here.)
The assignment of these cuts does not affect the current fiscal year’s anticipated budget deficit of $41.6 million. The state budget also faces a $1.4 billion shortfall for next fiscal year.
Municipal leaders were quick to decry to cuts, as was the coalition suing the state for what they say is the state’s chronic underfunding of schools.
“Some of these towns are seeing a sizable cut, so what are they supposed to do midyear?”asked Betsy Gara, executive director of the state’s Council of Small Towns. “They have eroded municipal revenue through the car tax cap and the municipal spending cap and other property tax exemptions. All of this hamstrings the towns to respond to cuts in education funding and other areas. They have essentially taken away any tool that we have to balance our budget.”
Jim Finley, principal consultant for the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, the group of municipal leaders and educators suing the state, said the reductions bolster the group’s case awaiting action by the state’s Supreme Court.
“This latest cut to ECS underscores the importance of judicial action to ensure that the state constitutional right to an equitable and adequate educational opportunity for all public school students is honored by all branches of state government,” he said.
“The administration has known since August that they would need to hold back these funds from municipalities. But they chose to wait until now to let towns know how much they would lose, after half the fiscal year has already gone by, making these cuts more difficult for towns to absorb. This is poor planning at best, and at worst appears to be an attempt to bury bad news when people are focused on the holiday season,” said Senate Republican President Pro Tempore Len Fasano, North Haven.
In a statement, the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, called the cuts “untenable”.
“Towns and cities have already included these aid commitments in their budgetary spending plans for this fiscal year… The new $30 million cut in LoCIP funds goes far beyond cuts called for the in the state budget. These cuts occur when towns have relied on agreements with the state regarding ways to address crumbling roads and bridges and other citizen safety projects,” the organization wrote in an statement. “The education cuts occur at a time when the CCJEF v. Rell case has proven that the state has serious education disparity issues to address. The State must develop state budgets that do not make for these late-December mid-year cuts that harm property taxpayers.”