Connecticut Municipalities Press State Lawmakers on Budget Plan

By Joseph De Avila Features Dow Jones Newswires

City and town officials from across Connecticut called on state lawmakers Wednesday to end a budget impasse to avoid painful cuts to municipal services and to stave off potential property tax increases.

Continue Reading Below

An after-school program for 1,100 students will run out of money by October, according to the city of Bridgeport. Officials in the town of Newtown said its coffers will run dry by as early as April. And the first selectman in North Haven said the town and others across the state may have to raise property taxes unless the legislature passes a budget plan that is fair to municipalities.

"If actions aren't taken soon in this room, there will be very real consequences for families, for taxpayers all over the State of Connecticut," said Av Harris, director of legislative affairs for Bridgeport, at a press conference at the state capitol in Hartford.

The state hasn't had a budget since the fiscal year ended in June. State lawmakers have said they expect to vote on a budget in September, but they still haven't agreed on a spending plan to close a two-year, $3.5 billion deficit.

Until a budget is passed, state operations will be funded by an executive order signed by Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat. Under the executive order, the state is short $1 billion needed to maintain operations, including municipal funding, at a status quo level, according to the state budget office.

Newtown First selectman Pat Llodra said the town will run out of money by the fourth quarter of the fiscal year, which starts in April. At that point, the town will need to raid its reserve funds or raise property taxes or possibly both.

Continue Reading Below

"Either of those actions end up on the backs of property owners," Ms. Llodra said.

Mr. Malloy has been pushing for municipalities to shoulder more costs, including moving $400 million in teacher pension expenses from the state to cities and towns, which municipal leaders say would force them to raise property taxes to meet the payments. The governor said last week that towns can't continue to expect the state to provide increasing amounts of funding while Connecticut is in the middle of fiscal crisis.

State funding for cities and towns reached $5.1 billion for the fiscal year that ended in June, a 21% increase over the past five years, according to a report by the state's budget office.

John Elsesser, town manager for the town of Coventry, said the report on municipal aid is misleading and didn't account for the state underfunding education and payments in lieu of taxes for several years.

"While we can disagree on our opinions, we should not disagree on the facts," said a spokesman for Mr. Malloy's budget office, noting the 21% increase in state funding over the past five years.

"We have repeatedly said the executive order was not the governor's preference, but inaction was not an option when the General Assembly failed to adopt a biennial budget," the spokesman said. "The administration is acutely aware of the dire situation some towns and cities will face if the state continues without a budget."

Write to Joseph De Avila at joseph.deavila@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

August 30, 2017 15:40 ET (19:40 GMT)