Mayors, First Selectmen Seek To Avoid Deep Cuts As State Budget Stalemate Continues

Mayors, First Selectmen Seek To Avoid Deep Cuts As State Budget Stalemate Continues

Hartford Courant, August 30, 2017

With the state budget still stalled in stalemate, about 25 mayors and first selectmen traveled to the state Capitol to plead their case Wednesday for more money and a quick budget resolution.

The local officials want to avoid a plan by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to eliminate all educational cost-sharing funds for 85 towns and reduce the total for about 54 others. The towns would collectively lose hundreds of millions of dollars if the legislature cannot pass a budget and Malloy’s revised executive order takes effect.

Darien first selectman Jayme Stevenson said that residents in her Fairfield County town pay large amounts of state income tax, and she is simultaneously against proposed cuts in special education.

“I am the voice of the zeroes,’’ Stevenson told The Courant. “We’ve already swallowed those decreases in state funding. … I feel like we’re doing our part, and we’re doing it without complaint. But enough is enough.’’

In an important development, Rep. Danny Rovero, a key swing voter in the House Democratic caucus, said he will vote against the budget due to the proposed hike in the sales tax to 6.85 percent, up from the current 6.35 percent.

“I’m not in favor of the sales tax,’’ Rovero told The Courant on Wednesday. “I’m not in favor of any tax. I’m not saying it won’t pass, but it won’t be with my vote.’’

Democrats with only seven vote advantage back to top

Since the Democrats hold an advantage of 79 to 72 in the House, only three conservative Democrats could break away. With four defections, the Democrats would not have the necessary 76 votes in the 151-member chamber.

Rovero, one of the most fiscally conservative Democrats, says the legislature needs to cut state spending and shift more work to nonprofit organizations that hold contracts to provide state services like group homes. The nonprofits provide the services at a lower cost than the state, where employees have more lucrative benefits and larger pensions.

While Rovero is against tax hikes, he is willing to listen to the plan by Malloy and the House Democrats to raise the cigarette tax to $4.35 per pack, up from the current $3.90 per pack.

“I was a smoker, and I smoked a lot,’’ Rovero said. “We might be doing these people a favor. It was the hardest thing I ever did’’ to quit smoking.

The Malloy administration has warned the towns repeatedly that they would be receiving fewer state funds than in the past.

“While we can disagree on our opinions, we should not disagree on the facts,’’ said Chris McClure, Malloy’s chief budget spokesman. “And the fact is, over the last five years, municipal aid increased 21 percent as billions of dollars have been slashed elsewhere in the state budget.’’

He added, “We have repeatedly said the executive order was not the governor’s preference, but inaction was not an option when the General Assembly failed to adopt a biennial budget. The administration is acutely aware of the dire situation some towns and cities will face if the state continues without a budget.”