State Refuses to “Un-Tie” the Hands of Municipalities

May 12, 2010

There are 169 cities and towns in the State of Connecticut.
If you took a survey of each one of these municipalities
it’s a good bet that each would say that they
do not receive enough in the form of state financial
aid. The amount of funding a town receives from the
state has always been a hot-button issue. In fact, you
might have noticed over the years that whenever the
General Assembly passes a budget, legislators are quick
to announce that they have “protected state aid
to municipalities.”

The reason for this is simple; communities all over
Connecticut are struggling and rely greatly on the state
to finance their local obligations. However, with the
state facing economic uncertainty of its own and a budget
deficit already projected at over $3 billion for the
2012 fiscal year, the allocation of funds to help cities
and towns meet their needs is becoming more and more
of a challenge.

But a closer look at the factors that drive up the
costs of municipal budgets reveals that the state could
do a lot more to help towns alleviate their budget problems
rather than simply allocate more money.

One of the biggest factors is the yearly enactment
of local spending mandated by the General Assembly.
In fact, Connecticut municipalities are currently required
to comply with over 1200 state mandates. The Connecticut
Conference of Municipalities (CCM) estimates that half
of all municipal spending in Connecticut is to pay for
state mandated services.

By definition a “state mandate” means any
state initiated constitutional, statutory or executive
action that requires a local government to establish,
expand or modify its activities in such a way as to
necessitate additional expenditures from local revenues.

State mandates are a one-size-fits-all concept that
basically tells municipalities that Hartford knows what
is best for every locale. The problem with that is all
communities are different and what may be good for a
large city may not be good for a suburban or rural town.

Remember a couple years ago when the state fought vigorously
against the federal “No Child Left Behind law?”
Well that fight is still going on and the reason for
this is the state is having difficulty complying with
all aspects (mainly funding) of the federal law. Yet
at the same time, the state is doing exactly the same
thing to municipalities.

Heading into the 2010 legislative session, the following
mandates were seen as some of the most onerous and in
most need of repeal, or at the very least, postponement
to help towns alleviate costs.

  • In-School Suspension: Mandates
    that all schools in Connecticut ban out-of-school
    suspensions, this requires schools to provide additional
    staff and housing of students.
  • Raise-The-Age: Mandates that municipalities
    treat 16-17 year-olds as juveniles costing towns millions
    to cover training, facilities and operational requirements.
  • Health Insurance Premium Tax:
    Requires municipalities that are not self-insured
    to pay a 1.75% premium tax to the state, costing Connecticut
    towns approximately $6.3 million.
  • Health Insurance: Requires children
    under municipal health insurance plans to be eligible
    to remain covered until the age of 26.

While the legislature did pass HB
5255, An Act Concerning Municipal Mandate Relief
eliminating the responsibility of a town to pay for
the costly expense of removing and storing items from
evicted tenants, it can only be considered a small step
in the right direction in the sense that so much more
could have been done.

Unfunded or underfunded state mandates tie the hands
of our municipalities, making it extremely difficult
to control local costs, thereby forcing them to increase
property taxes. In these difficult times, with state
funding to municipalities in question, we must give
cities and towns the tools to control their spending
through mandate reform.

One thing to remember is that removing a mandate does
not mean that a town must change policy; it just gives
them the flexibility to do so if they deem appropriate.
By not doing more to address unfunded mandates, the
legislature missed out on a huge opportunity to provide
greater relief to municipalities.