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Monday, May 15, 2017

Towns Hit Hard in Malloy’s Latest Budget Revisions

By Keith M. Phaneuf, Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, Kyle Constable, and Jake Kara

www.ctmirror.org

UPDATE Gov. Dannel P. Malloy today recommended more than $700 million in cuts to municipal aid to help compensate for a $1.5 billion projected decline in state income tax receipts over the next two years.

[Under the revised budget proposal, Westport, which in this fiscal year received $1,673,011 in state aid, would owe the state $4,611,597 in the next year, according to the state Office of Fiscal Analysis.]

The adjustments Malloy proposed to the $40.6 billion, two-year budget he first unveiled on Feb. 8 also would add about $80 million in annual tax hikes to the $600 million in new yearly revenue recommended three months ago.

Most of the increase comes from boosting the real estate conveyance tax, though the governor also recommended ending the sales tax exemption on nonprescription drugs and imposing certain restrictions on business tax credits.

Malloy’s plan also maintained controversial proposals to expose nonprofit hospitals’ real property to local taxation and to bill cities and towns for a portion of teachers’ pension costs — though the latter proposal was capped.

And while most communities would lose funding, Hartford would receive a $50 million increase next fiscal year — $10 million more than the level Mayor Luke Bronin said is necessary to avert bankruptcy.

The revised budget also would impose even deeper cuts on a social services safety net that has been reduced frequently in recent years.

“The state must live within its means,” the governor said. “We cannot spend more than we take in. That’s why, when revenue came in lower than expected in April, we went back to the table to redraft our budget proposal. 

“This session, the best outcome we can achieve for the people of the state is to adopt a responsible, balanced budget that does not rely heavily on new or increased taxes.”

The governor’s plan still relies on $1.57 billion in savings from state employee concessions over the next two fiscal years combined. The administration, which has been involved in informal talks with unions since November, is expected to announce specific layoffs later today.

The governor warned unions last month that he had formally begun the process of ordering layoffs for an estimated 1,100 employees.

The Democratic and Republican caucuses in the General Assembly are expected to release separate proposals Tuesday to compensate for the eroding revenues.

Earlier this month, state analysts downgraded anticipated revenues for the next two fiscal years by $1.46 billion — nearly $600 million next fiscal year and $865 million in 2018-19 — largely because of eroding income tax receipts.

That erosion dramatically increased the projected shortfall in the next two-year budget.

The administration previously had estimated finances, unless adjusted, would run $1.7 billion in deficit in 2017-18 and $1.9 billion in the red the year after that.

The new potential shortfalls are $2.3 billion and $2.8 billion, respectively. These represent gaps of 12 percent and 14 percent.

Municipalities, which already sacrifice considerably under the governor’s original plan, would lose in several new categories.

A sales tax revenue-sharing plan enacted by Democratic legislators and Malloy just two years ago — despite strong evidence that state finances could not sustain the program — would lie in tatters under the governor’s latest proposals.

Communities were supposed to receive about $340 million in sales tax receipts next fiscal year and $350 million in 2018-19. The governor’s revised proposal eliminates more than 80 percent of that promise, $278 million in the first year and $285 million in the second.

The revisions also would cut $58 million per year owed municipalities in another revenue-sharing program involving video slot proceeds from the two casinos in southeastern Connecticut.

Other new proposals to cut local aid include cuts of:

—$20.7 million per year from various grants that reimburse municipalities for a portion of the local tax revenue they lose because state, private college and hospital property is exempt from municipal taxation.

—$10 million per year from the Education Cost Sharing grant to local school districts.

—$5 million per year for regional councils of government.

The governor did offer a compromise on another controversial proposal offered back in February that would cost cities and towns significantly.

To help pay for spiking contributions to the state pension fund for municipal teachers —- a $1 billion expense now that will grow by more than 33 percent over the next two fiscal years combined -— Malloy proposed in February to bill cities and towns for one-third of the cost.

That would have amounted to $408 million next fiscal year and $421 million in 2018-19. But legislators from both parties balked at giving municipalities such a large share of a cost expected to skyrocket over the next 15 years.

One projection from the administration has the full teachers’ pension bill topping $6.2 billion by 2032, which would have left the local share under the governor’s original proposal close to $2.1 billion that year.

Malloy’s latest revisions capped the annual bill at $400 million per year.

Betsy Gara, executive director of the Council of Small Towns, called the revisions “a disaster” for the state’s small towns.

“At this point, it seems like we’re rewarding the urban areas for allowing their budgets to increase considerably over the last several years,” Gara said. The “lion’s share” of the costs incurred by towns, she said, would be offset by property tax increases, not municipal budget cuts.

“They seem to forget that cutting municipal aid and shifting costs to towns is, in fact, a huge tax increase,” Gara said.

Joe DeLong, executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, offered a more cautious assessment, calling Malloy’s proposal “one step in the process.”

DeLong said CCM remains committed to advocating for “serious action on municipal cost containment, local revenue diversification and enhanced service-sharing.”

Mark Waxenberg, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union, said the proposal “would do irreparable harm” to the state.

“This budget creates distressed municipalities and cities rather than looking for a futuristic view of how to create a revenue system to bolster the cities and towns in our state,” Waxenberg said.

Even with the governor’s proposal to cap the share of teacher pension costs borne by towns at $400 million annually, Waxenberg said the added cost -— when coupled with other municipal and education aid reductions -— would “create deserts of poverty around our state that presently don’t exist.”

“I don’t think it’s a compromise at all,” Waxenberg said. “It’s finally out in the open that it has nothing to do with a partnership, as he claimed in his initial budget. It has everything to do with having cities and towns pay for the debt that the state has accumulated over the previous years.”

Malloy deflected a question about how municipalities could address the cuts.

“Their answers are raise taxes to give them more money, and I think I’ve made it abundantly clear that this cannot be a revenue-driven discussion,” Malloy said.

“I think this most recent budget proposal recognizes that the huge tax increases that Democrats have relied on and pushed through the legislature did not work and that Connecticut residents will not be accepting of that strategy again,’’ House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby said. “We have not endorsed tax increases and believe that approach will fail again.’’

“I have said to my caucus members that the real legislative session begins Wednesday with the budget negotiations. We are starting from scratch,’’ Klarides added.

“I thank the governor for offering line-by-line revisions to his budget so that we can continue conversations,” Senate Republican leader Len Fasano of North Haven said.

“While I still have serious concerns about elements of his proposal, including unfair burdens being placed upon municipalities, I also appreciate the governor being open-minded and incorporating ideas from others, such as efforts by Republicans to stabilize the state’s Special Transportation Fund.

“Before Wednesday’s meeting with the governor, all legislative leaders plan to exchange our line by line budgets and I look forward to a healthy discussion after everyone has reviewed each other’s two year budget plans,” Fasano added.

The governor also doubled down on redistributing education aid to the neediest communities.

Currently, two-thirds of the state’s Education Cost Sharing Grant total goes to the state’s 30 lowest-performing districts.

His first budget proposal would have redistributed existing aid that is provided to the better off towns and direct 70 percent of state education aid to the 30 struggling districts.

His proposal released today would have 78 percent of state education aid go to these lowest-performing districts.

To do this, the governor proposes providing zero education aid to even more than the 22 municipalities that he proposed receive nothing back in February.

This budget would provide no aid to another nine towns: Glastonbury, East Granby, Oxford, New Fairfield, Clinton, North Haven, Newtown, Monroe and Shelton.

In addition, several communities would receive further, significant cuts to their education grants under the governor’s revised plan.

By redistributing education aid, though, Malloy was able to produce a plan that would grant Hartford about $57 million in additional resources next fiscal year, based on the administration’s analysis.

Bronin has said he needs at least $40 million more in additional state funding in 2017-18 to avoid insolvency.

After months of insisting that Connecticut must try to close the impending, mammoth-sized deficits without relying chiefly on tax hikes, the governor asked for more revenue today — but avoided raising rates in the income and sales tax.

Most of the new tax revenue, $50 million next fiscal year and $52 million in 2018-19, would come by boosting the real estate conveyance levy on high-priced residential properties — sales topping $800,000 — from 1.25 to 2 percent.

The governor did recommend raising about $17 million per year by ending the sales tax exemption on nonprescription drugs.

And another $12 million would be raised annually by eliminating or capping various business tax credits.

Malloy also retained the three principal tax hikes recommended in his original budget:

—Eliminating the $200 property tax credit within the income tax, which would cost middle-income households $105 million per year.

—Reducing the income tax credit for working poor families, which would cost those filers $25 million annually.

—And boosting the cigarette tax by 45 cents per pack and raising other tobacco levies to generate an extra $60 million next fiscal year.

The governor also recommended sweeping funds from one-time or other limited revenue sources to help balance his revised proposal. This would provide about $87 million in revenue in each fiscal year.

Malloy would save close to $100 million next fiscal year and more than $120 million in 2018-19 with cuts assigned chiefly to the Department of Social Services, but also to programs for the developmentally disabled, mentally ill and drug addicted.

The administration does plan to privatize more groups hopes for the developmentally disabled currently run by unionized state employees.

“Connecticut is indeed facing massive fiscal difficulties, but the budget released today will leave some people without essential care,” said Gian-Carl Casa, president of the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance, the state’s largest coalition of private, nonprofit social services providers.

“The Alliance appreciates that Governor Malloy has recommended more structural change in the delivery of human services, shifting several more expensive state-run programs into the nonprofit sector. But the conversions must be accompanied by a reinvestment in the community programs that will have to absorb additional clients.

And a proposal that Connecticut’s hospitals already don’t like would get worse under the latest revisions.

Malloy proposed in February allowing cities and towns to tax nonprofit hospitals’ real property, which the administration estimated would be worth about $212 million per year to communities.

To offset that hit, though, the governor recommended about $250 million in new annual state payments to the industry. About two-thirds of that cost to Connecticut would be covered with federal Medicaid reimbursements.

But the governor’s latest plan reduces that payment back to hospitals by $35 million per year.

“Cutting and taxing hospitals has to stop,” said Connecticut Hospital Association CEO Jennifer Jackson said.

“We’re alarmed that Governor Malloy is doubling down on his plan to solve Connecticut’s budget problems on the backs of the sick. It was a bad idea when he first proposed it, it’s a bad idea now, and it isn’t the way to fix Connecticut.”

Malloy proposed reducing funds for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection by $8.1 million per year from his February plan.

Much of that reduction would result in cutbacks at state fish hatcheries and a new “passive management” plan for some state parks, meaning those facilities would be overseen by minimal staff.

“Connecticut cannot cut its way to budget sustainability,” said Eric Hammerling, executive director of the Connecticut Forest and Parks Association.

“It is no coincidence that the governor’s announcement comes just as the summer vacation season approaches and the pressure mounts to approve a state budget. It is shameful that Connecticut’s parks have become a pawn in this bruising budget debate. Every resident of Connecticut should be outraged.”

The governor also proposed scaling back funding for the Department of Emergency Services and Public Safety from his original plan by $4.6 million per year.

Much of that cut would mean reducing funding for nine regional fire training schools.

The governor also recommended cutting higher education — including the University of Connecticut, UConn Health and the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system — by another $5.2 million in the next fiscal year and $18 million in 2018-19. The CSCU system would bear the lion’s share of the second-year cut.

Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system, said the revisions represent a $19 million decrease to the state’s community colleges in the 2019 fiscal year.

“It’s a severe cut to our community colleges, which rely heavily on state appropriations,” Ojakian said. “If enacted, this will force us to re-evaluate and consider serious options beyond what we are proposing with Students First consolidation strategies.”

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Posted 05/15/17 at 01:29 PM  Permalink



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