Sen. Logan to work for equity in state education funding to towns

March 8, 2017

Gov. Dannel Malloy isn’t popular in the lower Valley — especially if you read the Valley Indy’s Facebook feed.

In advance of his visit to Ansonia Monday, a reader wondered if he would be charging a tax on his appearance.

Others requested he simply stay away. One guy suggested the governor’s pockets be checked before he left.

But Malloy, a Democrat, has found an unlikely ally here — Republican Ansonia Mayor David Cassetti and his administration.

Cassetti — who traveled to Cleveland over the summer to cheer Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention — and his faction within the city’s GOP wholeheartedly support a budget proposal put forth by the governor that could see a multi-million dollar increase in funding to Ansonia Public Schools.

Cassetti says he’s not looking for a handout — it’s just that the current formula shortchanges Ansonia, and now Malloy is talking about poorer cities finally getting their fair share of the funding pie.

“The governor and I may disagree on a few issues, but when it comes to fair funding for Connecticut schools, we are on the same page,” Cassetti told a crowd of about 100 people during a press conference outside Ansonia Library Monday morning.

The press conference, which included remarks by newly elected state Sen. George Logan, a Republican, and state Rep. Linda Gentile, a Democrat, was held in front of Ansonia Library because the library faces steep cuts under Mayor Cassetti’s budget proposal.

The cuts are proposed, Cassetti said, because the state keeps short-changing Ansonia of education money.

“I don’t want to see poorer towns or middle class towns lose services they’re currently enjoying,” the governor said.

Watch the video below — recorded live on an iPhone — for complete remarks from Cassetti, Gentile, Logan and Malloy, followed by questions from reporters and then the public.

The governor unveiled his proposal for the state’s two-year budget last month in Hartford, the beginning of a process that will likely go on through the summer.

While state officials argue over how to spend money, the locals are trying to piece together their own spending plans for next year. State aid is always one of the most important pieces, especially in distressed communities like Ansonia and Derby.

The governor’s budget proposal agrees with what many critics have been saying for years — the state’s method of delivering grants to help cities and towns pay for their public schools is severely out of whack.

So his proposal would mean millions more in funding for cities like Ansonia and Derby — but at the expense of relatively wealthier communities, including Seymour and Shelton, both of which would receive fewer state dollars under the governor’s plan.

Click here for a town-by-town breakdown of the proposal from the governor’s office.

Malloy said the old system of delivering state education money to municipalities was arbitrary.

“Ultimately the distribution of state assets should be based on something,” he said.

He noted that in Ansonia there’s less than $80,000 of taxable real estate per person, compared to more than $200,000 in some wealthier communities.

“In this budget . . . we take a giant step forward in equalizing this property tax burden that falls onto so many communities,” Malloy said.

The governor said that his spending plan singled out cities including Ansonia and Derby because, though they number only 30 of the state’s 169 municipalities, they represent most of its public school students and an “overwhelming” share of the state’s poverty.

“These things are tied together,” Malloy said. “We need to help move communities forward and that’s what’s included in this proposal.”

Toward the end of Malloy’s appearance Monday, a member of the public asked whether his budget proposal would threaten the Valley Social Club, a program run by BHcare on Main Street in Ansonia.

BHcare runs an array of programs for children and families in the Valley and beyond. They also help people with mental health issues.

The Valley Social Club, on Main Street, prevents people with mental health issues from being isolated. It’s a place where adults with those issues earn living skills, participate support groups, and engage in social activities.

A large contingent of people who receive support services from BHcare pressed Malloy on his commitment to helping those in need.

Malloy promised to have a staff member look into the issue.

The governor’s proposal is just that — a proposal.

State lawmakers decide what the state budget will be — after “a long and drawn out process, as it always is,” Malloy said.

And while officials from wealthier communities have complained about Malloy’s proposal, the governor said that the status quo isn’t an option.

“Everybody knows change has to happen,” he said. “I am very much committed to helping the communities who are representing far greater burdens than other communities in our state.”

The Valley Indy broadcast Monday’s event live via Facebook.

Reaction from readers in comments reflected the governor’s low approval rating, with many saying the governor has done more bad than good.

“Unfortunately you have been the worst for our state,” James Haefele wrote. “Driving business out, continuing to think that extending the burden of taxes is the fix to your choices . . . and in general.”

“Total mismanagement of state funds for too long have caused this problem,” Aaron Smith said.

The ultimate problem for Malloy is whether he can get a majority of state lawmakers to agree with his budget proposal.

A measure of the governor’s challenge — state Sen. George Logan, an Ansonia resident and Republican who upset longtime incumbent Joe Crisco last year.

Logan said during Monday’s event he looked forward to working with the governor Monday.

But afterward, he said he wouldn’t vote for the governor’s proposal as it stands.

Logan noted that in addition to representing Ansonia and Derby, which would get more state education money under the governor’s proposal, he also represents towns like Beacon Falls, Bethany, and Woodbridge, which wouldn’t fare as well.

He also noted the school funding proposal is just one component of the spending plan, saying the governor’s other assumptions — like getting more than $1 billion in labor concessions from the state’s public employee unions and allowing towns to levy property taxes on hospitals — are much bigger question marks.

“He’s got to plug a much bigger hole,” Logan said. “What if that doesn’t come through?”

State Rep. Linda Gentile noted that the governor’s proposal is just a starting point.

But the Democratic lawmaker said it’s the best starting point cities like Ansonia and Derby could hope for.

“Much will change between now and June, but at least the bar is so much higher in terms of where we’re starting from,” Gentile said. “To me, that is a good sign.”