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Opinion: Bipartisan budget approved; Norwalk ECS funding intact

State Rep. Fred Wilms (R-142).

Today the Connecticut Legislature finally passed a State budget. I voted Yes. With the House vote at 126-23 and the Senate at 33-3, this time we can easily override a Governor Malloy veto.

This budget was a compromise between Republicans and Democrats. Neither of us possess the strength to pass a budget on our own. Further confronted by an unreasonable Governor, who vetoed our September budget, legislators engaged in good faith give-and-take. The result is a budget that is close to the GOP September budget. Furthermore it spares Connecticut from Governor Malloy’s draconian edicts.

 

Below is a summary of the key points;

  • Taxes. There are no income tax increases, no sales tax increases, no sales tax expansion, no gas tax increases, no tolls, no cell phone taxes and no second home taxes. The Estate tax ceiling phases up to the federal level.
  • Balanced Budget. The $5 billion budget deficit is now fully dealt with, without employing financial gimmicks.
  • Constitutional Spending Cap. Mandated by Connecticut voters in 1992, we finally in 2017, implemented it. This Cap prohibits run-away State spending.
  • Bonding Cap. Governor Malloy’s excessive bond issuances are now threatening our bond ratings. We need bonding capacity to pay for needed transportation and capital projects. We cap annual bonding at $1.9 billion, down from the current $2.5 billion.
  • IDD/Disability funding. Programs that protect our disabled and vulnerable citizens, such as Care 4 Kids and Meals on Wheels, are funded. We insisted on that.
  • Mandatory voting on State union contracts. In the past the Legislature refused to vote on contracts covering 40% of the state budget. This gross dereliction of duty partially explains our current fiscal mess. Now legislative up/down votes are the law.
  • Employee compensation. The disastrous SEBAC deal approved in July by the Governor and Democrats locks in employee benefits for ten years and prevents layoffs for four years. Being forced to work within that horrible reality, this budget implements a mandatory State hiring freeze. Also teacher contributions to their own pensions increase from 6 to 7 percent.
  • Municipal reform. 80 percent of municipal budgets relate to employee compensation. Towns are hamstrung by State mandates that prevent them from adopting common sense reforms. In response our budget allows towns to engage volunteer citizens who want to help their own communities. It raises the prevailing wage threshold, which bloats town construction costs, from $400,000 to $1 million. Towns will no longer be penalized for having healthy Rainy Day funds plus union contract arbitrators can now split the difference in negotiations.
  • ECS funding. Norwalk ECS school funding is fully protected. Furthermore the formula is now changed in Norwalk’s favor, taking into account our urban socio-economic characteristics.

In conclusion, most Connecticut citizens are fully engaged with our State’s fiscal crisis. Bad decisions over the past 20 years cannot be undone by any one budget. I believe our turnaround will take between 5 – 7 years. The State is like a supertanker heading in the wrong direction. We need to turn our ship of State around. This budget represents the first turn of the ship. We need one more turn to move in the right direction. But we have to start somewhere – and this budget represents that.

7 comments

Donna Smirniotopoulos October 28, 2017 at 9:39 am

The Norwalk ECS strikes me as inadequate on its face given the unique challenges Norwalk PS face that do not exist in neighboring towns.

Passing a state budget under the SEBAC agreement was a mighty challenge—like walking a tightrope blind with hands tied behind the back.

Does this budget include Walk Bridge funding? If so, how much for the next fiscal year?

Does the state still mandate what kinds of workers will be employed in the construction of public housing, or is that the domain of the Norwalk Housing Authority. I have heard that the build cost on the Washington Village replacement project is about $600,000 per unit, which is a breathtaking number considering occupants will pay very little rent. Quality affordable housing is an essential in a city like Norwalk. But there is no explaining the exhorbitant price tag on these projects. The existing Washington Village has historic significance as the state’s oldest public housing project, built for war veterans. Is Washington Village, like the Walk Bridge project, being replaced in order to line the pockets of unscrupulous developers and expensive union trades persons?

Whether the Washington Village project is funded through state or Federal HUD dollars, tax payers are on the hook. Norwalk could house their low-income population better and for less money using available housing stock. This project seems like an excuse to make a few developers rich. And though I’m not certain, I would imagine there was a built in requirement to hire the most expensive trade unions, doubling the labor costs, all of which makes me wonder about the honesty and integrity of the Norwalk Housing Authority.

Donna Smirniotopoulos October 29, 2017 at 9:28 am

Thank you for that link, Nancy. The laundry list of costs associated with rebuilding Washington Village adds up to a heaping pile of bulls**t. We should not be fooled by the HUD grant. We are all paying for this project. But that’s not all. Take a look at the Housing Authority staff—bloated at nearly 40 employees. The worst part of this mess is figuring out how the NHA is budgeted and approved. Providing safe, affordable housing seems secondary to keeping the machine running and ever-growing. Services provided to those who need affordable and subsidized housing do not appear to rise in proportion to the cost of providing these facilities. But the NHA staff, the developers and the union shops who put these scrap heaps together seem to be making out nicely.

Townie October 30, 2017 at 3:27 pm

Does this budget eliminate the withholding of state income tax from social security retirement benefits? Seems to me that this was made a priority by the republicans. If not, what advice would Fred be able to offer on the future of this much needed relief for the elderly of this state?

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NancyOnNorwwalk.com was conceived as the place to go for Norwalk residents to get the real, unvarnished story about what is going on in and around their city. NancyOnNorwalk does not intend to be a print newspaper online; rather, it exists to pull the curtain back and shine a spotlight on how Norwalk is run and what is happening regarding issues that have an impact on taxpayers’ pocketbooks and safety. As an independent site, NancyOnNorwalk’s first and only allegiance is to the reader.

About Nancy

Nancy came to Norwalk in September 2010 and, after reporting on Norwalk for two years for another company, resigned to begin Nancy On Norwalk so she engage in journalism the way it was meant to be done. She is married to career journalist Mark Chapman, has a son, Eric (the artist and web designer who built this website), and two cats – a middle-aged lady and a young hottie who are learning how to peacefully co-exist.