[The Simsbury News] Senator Witkos Discusses Budget Issues with Simsbury Board of Selectman

April 5, 2011

By BARBARA THOMAS
For The Simsbury News
Story as it appeared on the Simsbury News on April 5, 2011

SIMSBURY — Democrat State Rep. Linda Schofield and Republican State Sen. Kevin Witkos helped the Simsbury Board of Selectmen understand Gov. Malloy’s proposed budget for 2011-12 at the selectmen’s meeting March 28.

Witkos handed out a seven-page legislative update document that shows Malloy’s proposal keeps the state’s municipal aid to Simsbury the same for fiscal year 2011-12 as in 2010-11 in most categories, and will increase for some.

First Selectman Mary Glassman asked him if the town can count on that money.

“Do you have any thoughts or advice on what we should budget for as we prepare for our referendum?” she asked.

Witkos said he thought the numbers should be good.

“In my conversations in caucus, we made a hard, fast pledge that we don’t want to cut municipal aid,” he said. “As far as I know, from the Republicans’ perspective, we would like to keep the numbers as hard numbers and work our magic on other things.”

Glassman acknowledged the town should do well, since some of the governor’s preliminary numbers regarding municipal aid show an increase.

“But we’re realistic,” she said, referring to what might be a long state budget session. “Obviously, we will be adopting our budget based on assumptions before you reach your deadline.”

Simsbury’s referendum is scheduled for May 17, and the Connecticut General Assembly’s constitutional deadline to pass the state budget is June 8.

When Glassman pointed out how hard it is for the town to know if the numbers are reliable, Witkos said they’re going to be very close.

His handout included a pie chart showing the governor’s proposed solution to closing the budget gap: 30 percent in anticipated employee concessions; 18 percent in proposed spending reductions and 58 percent in proposed tax increases.

The handout also stated Malloy has proposed new sources of local revenue-sharing in state revenue streams and new local taxes that would be available to municipalities.

These new sources of municipal revenue are estimated to be $85.2 million in fiscal year 2012 and $129.3 million in fiscal year 2013, according to the handout.

Schofield focused on Malloy’s suggested tax increases.

“Some taxes I don’t think are going to fly,” she said.

Schofield cited the proposed elimination of the mandated property tax exemption for boats and planes, which would now be subjected to a tax rate of 20 mills in all towns and cities, and collected by municipalities.

“It’s not likely to fly because it will affect jobs,” she said.

In addition, loss of the tax exemption might shut down the Simsbury Airport, she said, if owners can’t afford the property taxes on their airplanes and no longer use the airport.

Schofield was also critical of the proposed restoration of the state’s cabaret tax, which issues a levy on venues with entertainment that serve alcohol.

“It would add 3 percent to food and drink purchases and even cover charges,” she said. “I don’t like to see that happen to places like the Maple Tree (Inn, a Simsbury establishment that offers entertainment, food and alcohol).”

She mentioned two other tax proposals in the governor’s budget, aside from the local options, that she said would not work.

“Trying to tax (retail) sale items on their original prices is a nightmare,” she said. “And eliminating the $500 property tax credit we all enjoy is highly, highly unpopular. People are screaming out to restore (Malloy’s proposed budget cuts, and his) union concessions are enormous and will be very difficult to obtain.”

If all three proposals — taxes, cuts and concessions — fail and the legislature has an even bigger hole to fill, two potential targets include Medicaid and towns, she said.

“Although I’m saying that if I were you, I think I’d count on flat funding, I don’t think you can rest assured 100 percent that you will see all that money,” Schofield said.

Barbara Thomas can be reached by e-mail at [email protected] Follow us on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/thesimsburynews and on the Web at www.thesimsburynews.com.