The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities challenged candidates for state office Monday to address more than 1,300 mandates placed on city and town budgets.
The costs associated with these mandates — most of which are supported only partially with state dollars or unfunded entirely — are driving up property tax rates and leeching resources from local services, according to a new CCM candidate bulletin.
CCM also took a proactive strike in its new candidate bulletin, cautioning those running for office about two controversial proposals that have surfaced at the Capitol in recent years: shifting a portion of teacher pension costs onto communities and expanding workers’ compensation benefits to cover mental stress suffered by police and firefighters.
In a campaign season dominated by one pledge to eliminate the state income tax and a counter-charge that this would devastate Connecticut’s quality of life, CCM tried Monday to focus candidates on achievable goals.
“There’s one camp that’s all about cutting taxes with no solutions and one camp is about protecting organized labor and putting a chicken in every pot even though we are out of money,” said CCM Executive Director Joe DeLong. “There’s really no discussion about holistic reform.”
“If the state believes an existing or new mandate is appropriate public policy, then the state should be prepared to pay for it,” CCM wrote in the bulletin.
Among the types of relief the chief lobbying group for cities and towns is proposing are:
- Prohibiting state arbiters from considering a municipalities’ budget reserves when assessing whether a community can afford a new labor contract.
- Ease the state’s minimum budget requirement for local spending on education, which generally comprises 60 to 80 percent of overall municipal budgets.
- Exempt municipalities from the 1.75 percent health insurance premium tax Connecticut imposes on authorized insurers.
- Reducing pension benefits for future municipal workers participating in the state’s Municipal Employee Retirement System and requiring those workers to contribute more for the benefit.
- Revise the prevailing wage statutes that govern the construction wages municipalities must pay on certain types of publicly-financed capital projects.
- Allow cities and towns to publish legal notices on line, rather than in printed newspapers.
- Reform binding arbitration laws.
“What this report shows is simple: our cities and towns need lower property taxes and funding for our schools, roads, and more,” Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ned Lamont’s campaign wrote in a statement. “Our economy rests on having vibrant municipalities across Connecticut.”
Lamont has proposed expanding a state income tax credit that offsets a portion of middle-income households’ property tax bills. His Republican opponent, Bob Stefanowski, has frustrated Lamont by pledging to phase out the state income tax over eight years, something Lamont says is fiscally impossible and would devastate aid to cities and towns.
“For years Hartford has burdened municipalities with a plethora of unnecessary and unfunded mandates which have caused property taxes to skyrocket,” Stefanowski wrote in a statement. “As governor, I will work with the legislature from Day One to repeal unnecessary mandates which will allow our municipalities to operate more efficiently and reduce the property tax burden on hardworking Connecticut families.”
CCM also took aim Monday at two proposals it has fought vigorously in recent years.
The first was raised two years ago by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to mitigate skyrocketing teacher pension costs within the state budget.
Malloy proposed the communities cover as much as one-third of this expense, which currently approaches $1.3 billion per year or 7 percent of the $19 billion General Fund.
But because Connecticut saved inadequately for teacher pensions for seven decades between 1939 and 2010 — forfeiting billions of dollars in potential investment earnings in the process — this line item is projected to rise dramatically over the next 15 years. According to one study it could nearly quintuple, topping $6.2 billion by 2032.
Communities say the prospect of paying more than $400 million in teacher annual pension bills now — and maybe more than $2 billion per year by the early 2030s — would shatter local property taxpayers and municipal services.
The Malloy administration noted that the pension is a benefit for municipal school teachers and that cities and towns currently assume none of that cost. In addition, the governor has said, the current system is highly regressive, spending the most dollars per capita on wealthy communities — which pay the highest teacher salaries that, in turn, trigger the largest pensions for retirees.
CCM also cautioned candidates about a proposal that has cleared the Senate but — like the teacher pension cost shift — has never been enacted into law.
This proposal would expanding workers’ compensation for police and firefighters, requiring coverage for post-traumatic stress involving certain types of fatalities. This change was inspired by the school shooting at Sandy Hook.
CCM is asking the next governor and legislature not to adopt this change without working with local leaders. CCM representatives and members of labor unions have been working in recent months to develop compromise language on workers compensation.