Dr. Malloy hit lawmakers Friday with shock therapy

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy delivered shock therapy Friday in trying to jolt the state legislature out of a stalemate that has left Connecticut without a budget since July 1.

With no budget in place, gone are rules that held communities “harmless” from education budget cuts despite shrinking student enrollments, fat local budget surpluses or robust tax bases.

Free of such encumbrances, Malloy acted unilaterally to impose a philosophy he espoused back in February when he laid out his proposal for getting the state budget in balance. It called for reducing state aid significantly for communities that Malloy contended did not need all the fiscal help they were getting from the state and maintaining aid to struggling urban centers.

“There is no formula for the distribution,” Malloy told our editorial board last Monday. “And I’m rethinking … our allocation plan to further reflect on our constitutional requirement to provide a free public education in our state. There are clearly communities that are better positioned to provide for that free public education than others.”

True to that philosophy, Malloy on Friday announced what he would do absent a state budget. Groton schools would see a state Education Cost Sharing cut from the $25 million last fiscal year, to $7.5 million this fiscal year; Ledyard would see a cut from $12 million to $6 million; Stonington from $1.65 million to zero. And the list goes on for suburban communities across Connecticut.

ECS funding for Norwich and New London, on the other hand, would remain steady, at $36.2 million and $25.8 million, respectively.

Cuts that draconian should get the attention of many a senator and representative. Nothing focuses the mind of a politician more than watching pork being ripped away from the bone in the district where they will have to stand for re-election.

The only way to avoid the governor's planned cuts is for the legislature to pass a budget that allocates state resources differently. Last week I asked Malloy if forcing the legislature into action could be an added benefit of his shocking cuts.

“I suspect it is one of the things that we can reasonably predict will get us closer to getting a budget at some point,” he replied.

He added, however, that arm twisting is not the primary motivation for his revised education allocation plan.

“The reason for the allocation plan is that we have a constitutional requirement that we provide a free education,” said Malloy.

The governor is also not giving up on an idea so far flatly rejected by legislators — requiring towns and cities to begin sharing the cost of providing pensions for teachers. The pension is more than $10 billion underfunded.

Connecticut is unique in assuming the full cost of pensions for local teachers, said Malloy. He's right in saying cities and towns should share the burden of getting the fund in balance. The collective contribution from municipalities would start at $400 million, under the plan the administration announced earlier this year, but would increase dramatically in subsequent years.

Malloy said he is willing to negotiate a cap on the municipal contribution, or consider an alternate formula, but he sees no way to keep the plan solvent without local help.

With Democrats holding a slim House majority and the Senate split 18-18, finding consensus on closing the remaining $3.4 billion gap has proved elusive. But with aid to municipalities accounting for one-quarter of state spending, the state can’t close it without local governments taking a hit, reasoned the governor.

It is a matter of who makes the tough decisions on how to balance the budget — the governor by executive authority or the legislature by doing its job.

Paul Choiniere is the editorial page editor. 

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