Greenwich GOP delegation: Price tag of Malloy budget under scrutiny

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Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposed 2013-14 state budget is now in the hands of the legislature, and Greenwich’s delegation has had a mixed reaction to it.

Greenwich’s all-Republican delegation has called for a reduction in state spending, and according to Mr. Malloy’s office, this proposed budget reduces state spending by $1.8 billion off the current services budget as well as a lowered spending projection of 5.8% from where the budget was slated to be under the prior administration of Gov. M. Jodi Rell. Republicans have disputed that contention, though, saying it actually increases spending by $1.8 billion in order to fund the governor’s initiatives as well as contractually mandated costs.

Mr. Malloy pledged that this budget uses the general accounting principles he advocated when running in 2010 and which several lawmakers, including Greenwich’s state Sen. L. Scott Frantz (R-36th), have criticized him for not implementing.

The governor, who is in the middle of his four-year term, also pointed out that the budget features investment in “growth industries” like bioscience and expanding the University of Connecticut’s science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) program, which he said would “foster the next generation of Connecticut scientists, teachers, doctors, engineers, business leaders, and entrepreneurs.” The budget also calls for a $152-million increase in education funding.

“Even in difficult times, especially in difficult times, we have to keep investing in our future,” Mr. Malloy said.

This budget comes after projected surpluses ended up being deep deficits over the last year. Mr. Malloy said that his budget, which is set to cover two years, features borrowing to attempt to balance the budget but does not raise taxes. It extends some corporate taxes that had been set to expire, but does eliminate the car tax for vehicles valued under $28,000, a move that Mr. Malloy said would benefit middle and working class families. That change could be implemented by towns as early as July 1, at the start of the new fiscal year, but the state would not mandate it until July 1, 2014.

The sales tax exemption for clothing under $25 would also return as part of this proposal. That is scheduled to begin in 2014 and, if approved, would extend to items of up to $50 by 2015.

In his budget address on Feb. 6, Mr. Malloy said, “This budget furthers a plan we started two years ago. A plan to get our finances in order, to live within our means and to do it while making bold investments to create jobs and grow our economy.”

He later added, “The families and the businesses of Connecticut have enough on their shoulders. This budget asks no more of them. In fact, I am proposing that we give them some much-needed help. These changes won’t solve all of a working family’s problems. But as we continue the hard work of reforming our state finances and of growing jobs, they can still mean something to families working hard to make ends meet. Let’s make it happen.”

The budget, as presented, does not change state funding for municipalities like Greenwich, and that was received as good news by members of the town’s delegation to Hartford. In fact, state Rep. Livvy Floren said there was a lot to like in what was proposed even as she wondered how the state was going to pay for it.

“I’m absolutely pleased that he had a real vision,” Ms. Floren told the Post this week. “I’ve been hearing budget presentations for 12 years now and I know that when you reach for the stars, you’re going to come back to Earth eventually.”

Ms. Floren said despite the realities of funding state initiatives, she was still pleased to see the governor have ambitious aims and particularly focused on the investment in education which will benefit the University of Connecticut’s Stamford campus as well as districts in need of aid throughout the state. Ms. Floren noted money for early childhood education was in the budget, which is something she has been an advocate for.

“I’m thrilled by that,” Ms. Floren said. “If we are going to close the achievement gap and have real education reform, then we need to start early. I think this can really help us do it.”

Elimination of the car tax is something that is expected to be much discussed as the budget is debated and possibly revised. Ms. Floren said she would need to study it more before deciding how she would vote on it and said it had long been a policy advocated by state Speaker of the House Rep. Brendan Sharkey (D-88th District). Ms. Floren said it was “probably a good idea” given that because of the differing mill rates someone in Greenwich would end up paying far less than people in other parts of the state, but she wanted to see the exact language on the floor before deciding on it. She did stress that this was different from a form of a universal property tax throughout the state instead of local mill rates, which also has a lot of fans in the Democratic caucus in Hartford.

Ms. Floren said she did not want to see the end of local control on something like property taxes for homes, but cars, which are driven throughout the state, and beyond, were different. State Rep. Fred Camillo (R-151st District) agreed that this could be a benefit to Connecticut residents but worried it would place a burden on municipalities like Greenwich.

“What the governor hasn’t said yet is what is he going to replace that money with,” Mr. Camillo told the Post. “This could end up being a real hit to the towns. There’s a lot of unanswered questions about this and a lot of mayors and first selectmen in the state aren’t happy with it.”

Mr. Camillo did single out the call in the budget to continue developing the bioscience industry in the state. Mr. Camillo said that’s where Mr. Malloy has continued something that he has worked on since taking office, and he said it’s something he supports, but that he has concerns about how it will be paid for. Mr. Camillo said he understood any budget at this time is going to be a tough one, but there are issues that need to be addressed.

“When you’re facing a billion-dollar deficit this year and a billion-dollar deficit next year, it’s going to be painful,” Mr. Camillo said. “I know he said he doesn’t want to raise taxes in this budget, and I believe him. But when you’re making decisions that essentially force other people to raise taxes, then you’re raising taxes.”

Republicans in state government do face a challenge when it comes to the budget. While the party dominates Greenwich elections, Democrats have the governor and both the state House and Senate in Hartford, meaning GOP priorities are not always addressed. The Greenwich delegation universally praised the investment in education and developing a bioscience sector in the state, but they all raised concerns about the amount of borrowing, claiming this budget would require $1.5 billion in borrowing for 2014 and an additional $1.6 billion of bonding for 2016.

“I’m concerned that the budget borrows money to pay for day-to-day expenses,” state Rep. Stephen Walko (R-150th District) said. “So while the governor’s budget seeks to help future students through ‘next generation Connecticut,’ this budget saddles the same generation with an overwhelming amount of debt.”

At an environmental forum last Thursday, Mr. Frantz, a member of key committees in the state Senate, including finance, discussed his concerns about the price tag for the state, saying that the budget “is in pretty rough shape.”

“In theory this budget is balanced and has some very nice allocations for various groups, but it’s a bigger budget than we had for the 2013 fiscal year,” Mr. Frantz said. “It’s a bigger budget by about 5%, and the year after that, in 2015, it’s bigger again by about 5%. It’s not where we should be as a state. There’s a lot of new borrowing going on, and there are some very interesting machinations having to do with how state government accounting is performed. The standards are very loose up there. We’re going to be looking very, very closely at that on the finance committee, the appropriations committee and other different task forces and committees.”

 

editor@greenwich-post.com

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