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State municipalities on defensive as lawmakers take aim at deficit

By Johanna Somers

Publication: The Day

Published January 08. 2013 4:00AM

As the governor and legislators figure out how to close the $1.1 billion budget deficit, municipalities are voicing concern and positioning themselves for the upcoming financial showdown.

"Let's not turn back the clock by balancing the state budget on the backs of municipalities," said the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities in a press release.

Municipalities have already enacted painful budget cuts across the state, the association said. Funding for towns and cities should remain at least at current levels to meet education needs, state mandates and grow inter-municipal cooperation, the association said. And less funding from the state would lead to higher property taxes, it said.

"Chronic state underfunding of pre-K-12 public education is the single largest contributor to the overreliance on the property tax in our state," officials said. Connecticut is one of the most property-tax reliant states in the nation.

As it currently stands, the education cost-share grant is underfunded by more than $700 million and special-education costs are nearly $2 billion per year.

Towns and cities face 1,200 state mandates, many of which should be eliminated or modified, the association said. A constitutional amendment to prohibit unfunding or underfunding of state mandates is needed, the association said.

The association also said it wants financial assistance to continue regional collaboration.

"Providing towns and cities with the tools and authority to deal with service delivery, revenue and other issues on a regional basis would result in increased efficiencies," the association said. For example, it would like to see the Regional Performance Incentive Grant funded at least at the level for fiscal year 2012, which was $8.6 million.

Poorer municipalities faced higher unemployment, crime and poverty during the recent recession, the association said. Therefore, targeted investments are needed for these communities.

Some of the investment measures the association would like to see include municipal revenue base diversification, a state bonding pool for small municipal borrowings and retention of small and "moderate-sized" companies.

"Such bedrock state investments will ensure that municipalities can help our young people and others find jobs, participate in civil affairs and lead productive lives," the association said.

j.somers@theday.com

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