Cities, towns ask state leaders in TV ad, ‘Are you listening?’

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities is pressing state officials to deliver a budget that protects cities and towns, unveiling a television commercial Monday that suggests the legislature’s inaction could cost people their homes.

The 30-second spot, which will air through the rest of the month on network affiliates and Cable News 12 in Fairfield County, urges officials to revisit a state budget stabilization plan local leaders developed back in January.

The ad mingles concerns raised by unnamed home and business owners with responses from municipal leaders, who drew contrasts of responsive local officials with deadlocked legislators.

“High property taxes are going to cause me to lose my home,” one woman says as the ad opens. A second asks “Why can’t government be more efficient?”

Portland First Selectwoman Susan Bransfield, president of CCM, contrasts municipalities with the state, saying in the commercial, “Local leaders listened, united, and presented a plan to streamline services.”

The plan Bransfield is citing involves a major sales tax boost to aid communities and new regionalization incentives and collective bargaining changes to reduce the cost of local government.

CCM recommended in late January that state officials both broaden the sales tax — canceling various exemptions — boost the rate to 7 percent and dedicate the $700 million it would generate annually to municipalities.

A second proposal would amend state rules regarding binding arbitration — a process cities and towns routinely go through each year to settle compensation for teachers, police officers, public works staff and other unionized employees.

New sales tax dollars dedicated to communities would be exempted from the arbitration review process. In other words, an arbiter could not weigh those grants when assessing a community’s ability to afford worker raises.

CCM’s plan also would revise collective bargaining laws to make it easier for neighboring towns to economize and provide services on a regional basis. It also would exempt new services provided regionally from collective bargaining.

“The spot shows that Connecticut residents are concerned and want a state budget agreement that reflects the interests and pocketbook of the state’s taxpayers,” said Joe DeLong, the executive director of municipal group.

With the new fiscal year 12 days away, legislators and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy still are struggling to craft a new state budget.

Republicans in the House and Senate don’t support a budget based on a proposed union concessions framework. That plan would save close to $1.6 billion over the next two fiscal years, but falls short of fully paying for benefits. It would protect employees from a further restructuring of benefits for another five years.

Malloy and his fellow Democrats in legislative leadership won’t back GOP proposals to legislate changes to collective bargaining laws — at least not until after rank-and-file union members vote on concessions. A vote is expected in July.

But legislators from both parties as well as the governor would reduce municipal aid in varying amounts next fiscal year, as well as eliminate previously approved increases in grants to communities.

Unless adjusted, state finances would run a deficit of $2.3 billion in the next fiscal year, about 12 percent of the budget, analysts say. The potential gap is projected to grow to $2.8 billion, or 14 percent, in 2018-19.

The ad ends with the featured voices asking a question in unison: “State leaders, are you listening?”

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