Municipal Leaders Have Shown You Our Sustainable Plan — What Is Yours?
Last week, a familiar and important ritual occurred: tens of thousands of Connecticut school children boarded buses or walked to our valued public schools. As our children embarked on this essential endeavor, state leaders had not passed a budget that provides certainty and stability regarding how much state funding towns can expect to receive to provide a high quality public education for our children — what most people regard as the State’s most consequential duty.
We move toward day 100 without a state budget agreement — remember when the General Assembly first adjourned without a budget on June 7?! Although severely criticized, municipal leaders will continue to keep up the pressure on state legislative leaders and Governor Malloy to resolve this unacceptable impasse — an impasse that affects the quality of life for all people in the communities in which we serve.
What message are State leaders sending to Connecticut residents and businesses? The answer, thus far, is no answer for structural reform for municipalities and state government.
CCM and its member municipal leaders have led the way on this issue. In January, we showed state legislative leaders and the Governor our reform package for towns. Our plan is entitled, This Report Is Different -- Securing the Future: Service Sharing and Revenue Diversification for Connecticut Municipalities. We still await state leaders’ structural reform plan.
CCM’s plan, developed by a panel of over 30 municipal CEOs from across the state, has been approved by our board of directors as well as member leaders.
Towns and cities are entities of the State and while some state leaders want to severely cut state aid to municipalities, there still has been no plan presented as to where we are going or what a new state-local relationship should look like. For example, we need true reforms to local public education instead of just education funding cuts and cost shifting from the state to local governments -- and their property taxpayers.
Need quick action back to top
CCM urges the Governor and the legislature to quickly devise and enact a state budget that is not balanced inordinately on the backs of property taxpayers.
A recent CCM survey of town and city governments showed the service and fiscal constraints being imposed at the local level, as municipalities were forced to operate in the first quarter of the new fiscal year with no indication regarding final state aid levels.
Nearly half of the responding towns imposed some type or level of spending freeze during the first quarter of the fiscal year; and half of the responding towns curtailed some critical municipal services.
The flawed report recently presented by the State Office of Policy and Management (OPM) puts a significant spin on the critical issue of state aid to towns and cities. CCM takes issue with this analysis on many fronts, including:
- PILOTs: The State created State Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOTs) because it insisted on exempting state property, and private colleges and hospitals, from local taxation. Seemingly every year, the state allows for new properties to be taken off the tax rolls and then funds PILOT at a lower and lower percentage. Currently, there are over 77 state-mandated property tax exemptions.
- The State sets its own education formula to fund the State’s responsibility for public education and then underfunds its own formula by $600 million every year. Again, providing a quality public education is, to most, the important duty of the State. Moreover, the State Constitution requires it.
- There are over 1,300 state mandates on towns that dictate nearly 50 percent of municipal spending. The vast majority are completely unfunded, and there has been no meaningful mandates relief in recent memory.
- The State sets up the system that provides teacher pensions and then when the system the state forms becomes unsustainable, the solution is to push the problem they created off onto those who had nothing to do with it. The Governor’s proposal would mandate that towns pay $400 million into the Teachers’ Retirement Fund in this biennium — the cost of which is to mushroom in just the next few years.
Towns and cities have repeatedly put forth solutions to help the state without decimating our communities.
The Governor and General Assembly should take a page from local governments’ book and put aside partisan politics to pass a budget that puts the State on the path toward economic stability -- and has an eye on the plight of residential and business property taxpayers.
Examples of critical elements from the CCM plan are:
Shared Services Collaboration — Including, when service sharing arrangement affect two or more collective bargaining units, the interests of all employees affected by the new arrangements will be represented by either a coalition of bargaining units or a new bargaining unit will be created to represent all affected employees.
Cost Containment — Including, amending the Municipal Employee Retirement System (MERS) to establish an additional retirement plan for new hires to constrain municipal pension costs, and allowing towns to control non-educational expenditures by boards of education (e.g., bulk purchasing, building and grounds maintenance, etc.).
Revenue Diversification — Including, providing for greater municipal revenue diversification by sharing a portion of state sales tax revenues with towns and cities.
“Connecticut: Still Revolutionary” is the state’s tourism slogan. Indeed, no state has made a greater contribution to the building of America. It is our duty as state and municipal leaders to continue that unparalleled legacy. Placing Connecticut on a sustainable path through real structural reform on the state and local levels demonstrates our reverence for our rich history and our commitment to maintaining a Connecticut that our children and future businesses will be proud to call home. If not now for real structural reform, when?