Connecticut’s Towns & Cities Need Relief From Unfunded State Mandates

December 16, 2009

As someone who began his political life as an elected municipal official, I know firsthand the impact state mandates have on local governments. That is why I was honored to be appointed to Governor M. Jodi Rell’s recently convened municipal mandate reform working group. Our charge was two-fold: to recommend ways to close Connecticut’s budget deficit by cutting existing state aid to municipalities by three percent, and to alleviate the pain caused by this loss in funding by recommending ways to provide relief from state mandates.

You may have heard by now that the working group declined to propose cuts in state aid because we know that towns and cities cannot afford the loss in funding. Municipalities have already budgeted for the state funding promised them by the General Assembly, and pulling that money in the middle of the fiscal year will cost local taxpayers in the form of lost programs and services, higher property taxes, or both.

However, members of the working group – which included several elected local government officials – agreed that providing relief from state mandates is among the most important things the General Assembly can do to help towns and cities control costs. According to the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, there are more than 1,200 state mandates on the books, and all too often the legislature either fails to pay for them or does not pay enough. Obviously, this drives up the cost of local government, a cost that is passed on to families and businesses.

While some members of our working group expressed concern about certain individual recommendations for providing mandate relief, we agreed that the General Assembly should take a bold approach to acting on our suggestions.

Our list of recommendations includes:

Allowing municipalities to post public notices on the internet to meet the legal notice requirement, instead of purchasing print advertisements.

  • Eliminating the municipal responsibility to remove and store possessions of evicted tenants.
  • Reforming binding arbitration and work rules, and enacting municipal pension reforms.
  • Suspend the prevailing wage law for state-funded municipal projects.
  • Provide complete state funding of special education.
  • Fully fund the state’s payment-in-lieu of taxes program (PILOT) which is intended to help municipalities recover the cost of hosting hospitals, colleges and other tax exempt enterprises.
  • Prohibit the General Assembly from imposing new unfunded, or underfunded, state mandates without a two-thirds vote of each legislative chamber.
  • Relieve municipalities from the minimum budget requirement that fuels education budgets and prevents local governments from controlling appending in their biggest expenditure area.

Require DMV to provide date of birth information on drivers to assist in collecting from delinquent taxpayers.

These are commonsense recommendations which, if adopted by the General Assembly, would go a long way toward helping local governments control their costs and, thus, control local property taxes. Connecticut is experiencing serious fiscal problems both because of the national recession and because the General Assembly continues to resist the need to save money by shrinking state government. At the very least, the legislature has an obligation to give municipalities a chance to better control the cost of local government. Doing so will benefit Connecticut’s families and businesses and, ultimately, help revitalize our state’s economy.

As always, I welcome the opportunity to discuss the issues that are important to our state. Please feel free to share your concerns about our state budget problems, and your ideas for solving them. I can be reached at my legislative office in Hartford at 1-800-842-1421, or via e-mail to [email protected].