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GOP’s proposed state budget cuts would play havoc with Norwalk

Common Council President Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large).

Common Council President Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large).

Updated Wednesday, April 27, 9:05 p.m., with responses from State Rep. Fred Wilms (R-142).

 

NORWALK, Conn. – A budget-slashing proposal by the state’s Republican delegation in the General Assembly, which has drawn some interest from Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, has raised eyebrows more than a bit with a couple of Norwalk’s Democratic leaders.

As reported by the Connecticut Mirror, “The Republican proposal largely shields cuts to municipal aid for public schools by restoring the cuts to wealthy communities that Malloy and the Appropriations Committee targeted. The GOP plan, however, does propose cutting Education Cost Sharing grant ‘earmarks’ to four communities; $1 million for West Hartford, $450,000 to West Haven, $750,000 to New Haven and $200,000 for Norwalk. … Another $2.6 million would be cut to the state’s 15 lowest-performing districts, known as the Priority School Districts.”

Common Council President and Finance Committee Chairman Bruce Kimmel cautioned Tuesday night against rushing to make decisions, especially with everything in flux at the state level.

“Everyone is pushing and pushing for answers. They have to be patient. There are so many moving pieces here. We have to do this right, we want to do it but we are not going to be rash and make a decision and then find out we got that cut and that cut and now we are really screwed.”

Later, having seen the CT Mirror story, Kimmel responded further.

“I have not seen the Republican proposal,” Kimmel said in an email, “but in light of what’s been said over the years by our Republican reps in Hartford, it boggles the mind to hear that anyone, from either party, would dare to cut Norwalk’s ECS grant. Talk about adding insult to a long-existing injury.”

A Tuesday night email inquiry to State Representatives Terrie Wood (R-141), Fred Wilms (R-142), and Gail Lavielle (R-143) drew no immediate response, but Wilms responded Wednesday evening with a comment at the end of this story signed by all three Republican reps. The entire comment may be read below, but he summarized with this:

State Rep. Fred Wilms (R-142)

State Rep. Fred Wilms (R-142)

“As we know the State is in a fiscal crisis and the storm is expected to get worse over the next five years. Based on this fiscal reality, the GOP decided the only rational way to budget was to put together a five year proposal. … As in any negotiation, no one gets 100% of what they want. The GOP budget negotiations involved 64 House members and 15 Senate members. No one got everything they wanted. So while we negotiated a lot of good things for the State and for Norwalk, we wish there was not an initial $200,000 ECS hit, nor a potential $255,000 reduction in Priority School District funds. However our leadership understands the unique importance of ECS funding to Norwalk and has pledged to work with us on restoration.

“In conclusion we once again stress the five year protection of the GOP budget. As the State fiscal crisis worsens, pressure to slash aid to municipalities will dramatically increase. Lower municipal aid means Norwalk would have to raise property taxes in response. This fiscal crisis is growing beyond the ability of any legislative leader to insulate their town. As such we believe the best protection to Norwalk can only be achieved by sustainable long range budget planning.”

Mayor Harry Rilling expressed frustration with the situation Tuesday and pointed out that the cities and towns are coming up on the statutory deadline to set their budgets.

Mayor Harry Rilling

Mayor Harry Rilling

“Monday night we have to approve our final budgeting, by city ordinance, and if we don’t have something more solid then obviously if our revenue stream from the government … if that is cut then we have to go back to the drawing board and make some drastic changes.

“The bottom line is we worked really, really hard to keep our budget increase down to a bare minimum, in fact the lowest mill rate and tax levy increase in over 10 years. Now, if they throw us a curve ball by (cutting) the already underfunded ECS money as well as the Priority School District money, which we get because we are identified as a school system, underperforming (the achievement gap) … If they cut that, it is going to take us back to the drawing board and make us have to do one of two things, or a combination thereof. We are going to have to cut our budget significantly someplace in order to make up for the shortfall, or increase taxes.”

Rilling explained that the city is obligated by state law to at least match the current year’s school budget, regardless of what the state sends to the city for education aid.

“The thing is, if they cut our ECS and our Priority School District, I know that we have in Connecticut a minimum budget requirement, an MBR,” Rilling said. “So if they take away… we only get (about) 11 million from ECS … if they take that away, we have no choice but to put that back in out of the city funding. So we have to give them at least as much as we gave them last year. We can’t give them less. If they cut our ECS and our Priority Schools, that doesn’t relieve us of the obligation to fund our Board of Ed at least what we gave them last year. Plus, they are asking for a 3.9 percent increase that we gave them – we fully funded the Board of Ed this year.

“We found the extra money; we were $600,000 apart at the end of the budget process,” Rilling continued. “We gave them another $300,000. We found the other $300,000 by some efficiencies, energy savings and so forth. So we gave them the full amount, the 3.9 percent increase that they wanted. We can make changes, but we don’t want to. We want to give them the money they need to get the job done to give our children a world-class education. However, if (the state keeps) pulling away and pulling away, we still have to give them the money we gave them last year. “

What will happen will depend on what goes on in Hartford in the coming days. Funding for schools is not the only cut the city could see. Another cut that would affect Norwalk under the proposal involves the plan passed last June as Senate Bill 1 to share a portion of state sales tax receipts with cities and towns. “Communities are slated to get more than $240 million next fiscal year, and almost $300 million in 2017-18,” according to CT Mirror.

Under the Republican proposal, more than half that figure would be cut next year. The rest would go toward capping municipal property taxes on motor vehicles.

That cut, added the $200,000 ECS cut and Priority District cut, could put a serious squeeze on the city’s budget.

12 comments

Mike Lyons April 27, 2016 at 9:48 am

Great. I appreciate my fellow Republicans’ efforts to get some semblance of budget control in Hartford, but a cut to Norwalk’s ECS funding? When we’re $20-$30 million per year underfunded as it is?

David T McCarthy April 27, 2016 at 10:26 am

I am a bit perplexed here. Just a few days ago, Mr. Kimmel indicated that the $4 MILLION loss from Bob Duff’s fictitious funds could be absorbed easily and it was no big deal. Now, a $200k cut proposed as a part of a package put together as an alternative by the Republicans in the General Assembly is “mind boggling”??

While I can appreciate Mike Lyons perspective on not wanting to lose funds devoted to education, we are talking a number less than the final difference that was made up in the rounding error in the fuel bill.

The bigger issue is the pure politics of the reaction. No honesty or understanding of the actual budget and its impact. This oft repeated canard about the “lowest tax increase” which was a cover-up of the typical 3.1% increase in spending by the aforementioned Funny Money that everyone knew was never going to come, but was used as press release fodder to ensure Duff’s re-election and to try to make people comfortable with the gross mis-management of our municipal government.

The state is now beyond bankruptcy, to the point where it is likely to be downgraded again, and that will likely have an impact on the city, no matter what we do. Contact your realtor, folks.

Kevin Kane April 27, 2016 at 10:54 am

Folks, the fuses are lit. Ok? Get it through your heads. It’s not one bomb, it’s sequential bombs but the problem is the varying lengths of fuse and unknown sizes of explosive. The Crisis du Jour that occurs on the State level is cascading down to the towns. Is anyone honestly surprised panic mode ensues weekly? Daily? There is no planning because the finances are out of control and changing daily. All foam and no beer.
Recently, Democrats saw a $900 million gap and responded with only $500m in cuts. Are you kidding me?! I’d be out of a job if I came back to my CFO with such a poor effort.
How many analogies do our politicians need to get it through their heads? The obese patient can no longer think a switch from daily Big Macs to 1/4 pounders and a 32 oz. Coke will help nor will glossy nail polish or hair gel cover up the core problem – it’s time for life altering, massive quadruple bypass surgery. The butter knife is not cutting it Bob Duff – get the chain saw. But no, of course not…..nothing to see here folks. No lessons here to be had… Keep moving along kiddies – Kardashian reruns are on in 5. Unreal….. K. Kane

Chris Bazan April 27, 2016 at 11:00 am

No one wants to accept that we as a state are broke. We have one of the highest tax burdens in the country, one of the highest debt loads, and one of the highest pension liabilities, yet no one wants to accept any cuts. Wake up people, the cuts are coming, this is not sustainable.

Mike Lyons April 27, 2016 at 11:27 am

Chris, we’ve been living with a $20-$30 million annual ‘cut’ in funding for decades — haven’t we done our fair share already?

Bryan Meek April 27, 2016 at 1:55 pm

Eliminate the income tax over a 6 year period. Cut 1% a year until it is zero. Starve the beast.

Balance no budget with debt. Debt must only be used for projects with tangible ROI.

Close budgets by eliminating in entirety any and all state agencies and programs by descending order of their creation. The state managed to survive some 300 plus years without most of them and we will do just fine without most of them.

Let the cities that can’t run a lemonade stand fold. States are not afforded Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection but cities are. Eventually the cities that can’t run themselves without confiscating wealth from other responsible towns can restructure and run themselves correctly.

Donald April 27, 2016 at 5:31 pm

I guess Rilling, Kimmel and the common council will need to make some cuts. What I find interesting is we have all these new apartments being built in Norwalk yet we are still having a small tax increase. What happened to all that tax revenue? If you figure these dollars and our tax increase it proves just how out of control this administrations spending is and they want charter revision. SAD…
FYI Here is the first cut that could be made that would save millions…POLICE OVERTIME.

Fred Wilms April 27, 2016 at 8:39 pm

Thanks Nancy & Mark for reporting on the GOP budget proposal. As we know the State is in a fiscal crisis and the storm is expected to get worse over the next five years. Based on this fiscal reality, the GOP decided the only rational way to budget was to put together a five year proposal.

The GOP budget provides real spending solutions for the next five years without new taxes, borrowings or financial gimmicks. Our budget finally confronts the one area the Democratic leadership has been afraid to touch: unsustainable State employee costs. We call for employee wage freezes, reduced head count, control on excessive overtime and higher health insurance contributions. We started by cuts to our own legislative budget – leadership starts at the top.

While we were focused on dealing with the State budget crisis, we fought hard to benefit Norwalk as much as possible. As such the GOP budget:

1. Eliminates the State mandated local spending cap imposed in last year’s SB 1. That cap could hurt future Norwalk school funding.
2. Allows exceptions to the Minimum Budget Requirement (MBR). Concerns about the MBR were expressed in the current Norwalk budget cycle.
3. Provides Norwalk greater budget predictability by requiring the State to adopt municipal aid by April 1, as opposed to June currently.
4. Reduces future unfunded mandates on Norwalk by requiring a supermajority legislative vote. Unfunded State mandates often require towns to raise spending and property taxes.
5. Protects Norwalk ECS funds at a stable level for the next FIVE years (after initial $200,000 reduction). With the State budget crisis expected to last at least five years, the GOP budget acts as an insurance policy protecting Norwalk. Neither the Governor’s nor the Democrat past budgets have offered this protection – rather they have been short term, subjecting Norwalk to annual budget unpredictability.
6. The other State aid programs for Norwalk are protected at stable levels for the next FIVE years: PILOT, LOCIP, Town Aid Road, Public School Transportation, Grants for Municipal Projects, etc.
7. The property tax credit against the State income tax increases from $200 per year to $300 per year. Also 225,000 more Connecticut residents become eligible. Norwalk taxpayers will get direct relief.
8. Offers relief from a long list of current unfunded mandates on Norwalk.

As in any negotiation, no one gets 100% of what they want. The GOP budget negotiations involved 64 House members and 15 Senate members. No one got everything they wanted. So while we negotiated a lot of good things for the State and for Norwalk, we wish there was not an initial $200,000 ECS hit, nor a potential $255,000 reduction in Priority School District funds. However our leadership understands the unique importance of ECS funding to Norwalk and has pledged to work with us on restoration.

In conclusion we once again stress the five year protection of the GOP budget. As the State fiscal crisis worsens, pressure to slash aid to municipalities will dramatically increase. Lower municipal aid means Norwalk would have to raise property taxes in response. This fiscal crisis is growing beyond the ability of any legislative leader to insulate their town. As such we believe the best protection to Norwalk can only be achieved by sustainable long range budget planning.

Sincerely,

Terrie Wood, State Rep (R-141)
Fred Wilms, State Rep (R-142)
Gail Lavielle, State Rep (R-143)

Mark Chapman April 27, 2016 at 9:01 pm

@ Fred Wilms

Thank you for your detailed response. I will leave the comment intact, but lift some parts into the main story for an update so those who prefer not to wade into the comment minefield will get the picture.

Non Partisan April 28, 2016 at 7:38 am

It’s hard to find sympathy for Norwalk.

In light of the local and state fiscal realities Norwalk is pushing forward on multiple fronts with a financially self destructive model.

– high density housing instead of lower density town houses
– increasing percentage of workforce/subsidized/section 8 housing in TOD in lieu of gentrification.
– locating a homeless shelter in walking distance to the trains instead of best economic use.
– sanctuary city ( if not officially- certainly in practice)

Don’t blame the state for not giving us our fair share. There is plenty we can do for ourselves if we have the political courage to do so.

Bill NIghtingale Jr April 28, 2016 at 10:53 am

Agree with Non Partisan. Norwalk reaps what it sows. We are the ones that allow the state grants to build the 40% affordable housing complex by Poko in downtown Norwalk that would never be economically viable on its own and will not add proportionally to tax revenue but will only serve as a net drain on our resources; we are the ones who allow the railroad switching yard to ruin the neighborhood next to Stepping Stones; we are the ones who allow the Malloy pet project of rebuilding the Walk railroad bridge to tear up our town for years to come. We are the ones who allow Manrisa power plant to sit vacant which becomes a greater liability as time passes. And we are the ones who keep raising our budgets by inflation + when middle class wages have been stagnant for 10 years.

Chris Bazan April 28, 2016 at 11:56 am

@Mike Lyons, I agree Norwalk has been more fiscally prudent than most other towns, my comment is more directed at the state government and cities like Hartford and Bridgeport. The good news is that since we receive less ECS funding, when the deficits hit $2-3 billion annually starting next year, the pain will be less for Norwalk when compared to Bridgeport and Hartford.

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