Legislative committee proposes more funds for municipalities, less for education

Hartford - The Appropriations Committee has proposed restoring several grants for municipalities' non-education aid that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy had proposed cutting. Meanwhile, the committee has proposed cutting funds Malloy had proposed for education.

In total the committee would provide about $4 million less funding for cities and towns than Malloy would have in fiscal year 2014, according to the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. Malloy proposed sending $3.045 billion while the committee proposed sending $3.041 billion to cities and towns in 2014.

But CCM Executive Director Jim Finley said these figures include "restricted" funds such as the Education Cost Sharing Grant, which has to be used for school funding, and the Local Capital Improvement Program, which has to be used for capital projects such as roads and bridges.

When examining only the unrestricted funds, or money that can be used for operating costs such as paying police officers' salaries, the Appropriations Committee proposed cutting cities and towns by $152 million for fiscal year 2014 compared to 2013, Finley said. The governor proposed cutting cities and towns by $128 million in fiscal year 2014 compared to 2013, he said.

"The fact remains, towns and cities - and local property taxpayers - cannot afford to pay for the state's budget deficit," Finley said in a press release Friday. "Cuts in state aid to municipalities will cause increases in local property taxes, cuts in municipal services and layoffs of municipal employees and teachers."

Mayors and first selectmen have lobbied to have the same funding as the previous year. In response, the Appropriations Committee restored the $74 million Payment in Lieu of Taxes state-owned property program but reduced it by $11 million. The committee restored the Pequot Mohegan Fund, funded by slot machine revenues, which was about $62 million, but reduced it too by $11 million. The committee also reduced the $115 million PILOT for colleges and hospitals by $11 million. These funds can be used for operating costs and are considered non-educational aid by CCM.

In total the committee increased funding for non-educational city and town expenses by about $58 million for fiscal year 2014 compared to Malloy's budget proposal. The committee proposed giving $417 million in non-educational aid to cities and towns for fiscal year 2014, CCM reported.

However, the committee proposed cutting educational aid for cities and towns by $62 million compared to Malloy's budget proposal. The committee proposed giving $2.6 billion in educational aid to cities and towns for fiscal year 2014.

"From the perspective of educational reform, this budget is very disappointing," said Rae Ann Knopf, executive director for the Connecticut Council for Education Reform, a statewide nonprofit that works to close the achievement gap.

"It takes many steps backwards on too many of the reforms that were signed into law last year," she said in a press release.

For example the committee reduced the number of Commissioner's Network schools from 21 to 12 schools by fiscal year 2015, according to the budget proposal. Commissioner's Network schools, or lowest performing schools, are given additional funding and support in hopes of improving student achievement. There are currently only four Network schools.

The committee cut Network school funding by $1.7 million in fiscal year 2014 and by $8.5 million in 2015 compared to Malloy's budget proposal.

In a press release, the secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, Benjamin Barnes, said although the governor's administration agreed with much of the committee's budget, "There are also problems that will need to be addressed, including the need to continue key bipartisan education reforms. … As it stands, this proposal doesn't get there."

But the committee did keep with the governor's proposal to add $51 million in fiscal year 2014 and add $102 million in 2015 to the Education Cost Sharing grant.

However, it proposed a somewhat different ECS formula. The governor had proposed defining a town's wealth by weighing property wealth and income wealth equally whereas the committee proposed weighing property wealth by 90 percent and income wealth by 10 percent. Earlier this month, state Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, said the Education Committee recommended including median household incomes to send more money to lower-income communities. Although the committee did not propose weighing income wealth as heavily as the governor had proposed, the committee did recognize the importance of weighting income wealth, she said.

Local school districts that would receive more state aid under the committee's proposal than Malloy's proposal include Norwich, $326,000; New London, $98,000; Ledyard, $19,000; and Sprague, $2,000, according to the Office of Fiscal Analysis.

Local school districts that would receive less state aid under the committee's proposal include East Lyme, $16,000; Groton, $27,000; Stonington, $28,000, Waterford, $23,000 and Westbrook, $8,000.

Towns that would receive the same whether it is the committee's bill or the governor's include Lyme, North Stonington, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook and Preston.

Other education areas that the committee cut state funding for include public school transportation and non-public school transportation. The committee kept with Malloy's recommendation to cut public school transportation to $5 million from $25 million. The committee proposed reducing non-public school transportation to $719,000 from $3.6 million.

CCM will be lobbying at the state Capitol again on Tuesday and providing a town-by-town breakdown of the proposed funding cuts to municipalities.

j.somers@theday.com

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