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Conn. Government Gets Smaller, Not Less Expensive

Lawmakers discuss Hartford's opening day.

BIRTHDAY WISHES

State Rep. John Frey, a Republican representing in the 111th House District, celebrated his birthday on opening day. He also hopes to celebrate an active General Assembly this session.

"The huge unfunded pension obligations need to be addressed, as evidenced by Moody’s recent action ,” Frey said. “We must attempt to transfer to a defined contribution 401(k) type retirement plan seen in the public sector versus the state’s traditional defined benefit pension system.”

Frey also wants to end longevity pay (factored into pension calculating) and base pensions on stated income, not earned income which included overtime.

In addition, Frey said the state must consider raising the age of retirement eligibility.

“If a cop retires at age 45, according to actuaries he could collect for 45 years!” Frey said.

However, just so no one mistakes Frey’s concerns as union bashing, he said: “By the way, state employees didn't fail us. Their leaders, coupled with state government created the crisis facing us today."

SIZE (SHOULD) MATTER

The office of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed to boards and commissions to “reduce overlap and shrink the size of government.”

Among those boards and commissions being deep-sixed are: the Adult Literacy Leadership Board, the Board of Directors of the Lower Fairfield County Conference/Exhibit Authority, the Commission on Innovation and Productivity, the CT Public Transportation Commission, and the Small Business Air Pollution Compliance Advisory Committee.

Technically government got smaller, but not necessarily less expensive, said lawmakers.

State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, a Democrat representing Westport in the 136th House District, said eliminating the positions will make government a little leaner, but won’t necessarily save money.

“It is unlikely that the proposal to cut 25 boards and commissions will generate significant savings. Many of the cuts were to volunteer commissions with very small budgets,” . “The Public Transportation Commission, for example, has an annual budget of $12,000. The proposal was released on the eve of Opening Day (when the new budget adjustments are revealed), and because of the timing, it seemed more like a PR designed to create the perception of a major savings measure than a real spending cut.”

The governor’s office declined to comment.

DOLLARS & CENTS

Speaking of savings – and spending – during his state of the state address, Malloy presented a, $20.73 billion budget plan for the next fiscal year. The budget adds $329 million in spending over the preliminary budget to fund additional education aid for towns and to boost the state employees' pension fund. Malloy said the increase is less than 2 percent.

“In addition to the pension payment, I am proposing we spend 128 million dollars to increase funding for education, much of it targeted to our lowest performing districts,” Malloy said in his address. “Finally, I am proposing we spend the rest – 103 million dollars – to maintain the safety net and other critical services that help define us as a compassionate and decent people.”

Malloy said the state would cover the extra spending largely by using the remaining $555 million fiscal cushion he and legislators built into the preliminary 2012-13 budget. The plan also counts on more than $8 million in new revenue from Sunday liquor sales. However, the legislature has yet to approve Sunday liquor sales.

“We’re all asking ourselves where the $329 million is coming from,” Steinberg said. “It’s not going back to appropriations. So I agree with my Republican colleagues on this one, new taxes are off the table. I don’t want to see shenanigans to pay for this.”

Connecticut's fiscal situation remains unclear "because so many different groups are predicting different versions of potential deficits or surpluses,” said

Fawcett said Malloy has the authority to make up to 5 percent in additional cuts.  She said she trusts he will use this authority to balance the budget.

“The big problem will be if the state employee givebacks come in short, that obviously could be a larger hurtle to overcome,” Fawcett said. “My opinion is that if the giveback number comes in extremely short then the Governor will have to go back and renegotiate a new giveback, if the giveback doesn’t work they need to restructure it.”

EDUCATIONAL COST SHARING

Malloy announced his revised Education Cost Sharing Formula has some lawmakers scratching their heads.

Malloy plans to allocate $50 million to ECS funding next year. Of that, $40 million will go to the 30 lowest performing districts, conditioned upon their adoption of reforms. Also, for schools taking reforms further, they’ll be eligible for $4.5 million in competitive grants. Statewide, 130 towns will get increases over this year, while the other 39 will receive exactly what they receive this year. That means Wilton and Westport get no increase while Norwalk gets a 5.72 percent increase.

The problem, as Lavielle sees it, is that Norwalk shows up wealthier because of property values and grand list. 

During budget briefing yesterday to the Appropriations Committee, Lavielle questioned OPM Secretary Ben Barnes briefing to the Appropriations Committee whether the calculations used for allocating the $50 million next year would continue to provide a basis for calculating ECS allocations in the future, even though the ECS task force is not scheduled to release final recommendations until October.

“He said that the administration was pleased with the alterations to the formula used for allocating the $50 million now, but that it was up to the General Assembly to decide what to do with the formula going forward. I hope that this means that there really is room for maneuver,” she said

Lavielle said she’s concerned since using the equalized net grand list, or property values, to calculate town wealth has led to a disproportionately low allocation for Norwalk and Stamford since ECS was first introduced.

“Norwalk and Stamford have all the characteristics of the state's other large cities—high poverty rates, lower median income levels, diverse learning needs, and relatively high student populations. But because of their proximity to NYC, their property values are higher,” Lavielle said. “This means that Norwalk and Stamford residents must use a higher portion of their incomes to pay for education than their counterparts in other cities. I will be pushing hard to have this inequity addressed in calculation of the formula going forward.”

Although Wilton and Westport are unlikely to receive higher allocations, Lavielle said she’ll advocate for mandate relief for high-performing school districts, and Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor has told me that I'll likely find support for that concept. 

VOTE GREEN

The non-profit Connecticut League of Conservation Voters said the U.S. House of Representatives lobbed the most aggressive assault on the environment in history, but “the good news is that while the House voted against the environment a shocking number of times, both the U.S. Senate and the Obama administration stood fast against the vast majority of these attacks.”

The 2011 environmental scorecard gave high marks to the Connecticut delegation.

Democrat Senators Richard Blumenthal and Joseph Lieberman both achieved scores of 100 percent. In the House, and Rep. Joe Courtney (D-2) received 97 percent and 100 percent respectively.

"We applaud those members of the Connecticut Congressional delegation who opposed the countless attacks on vital public health and environmental protections in 2011," said CTLCV Executive Director Lori Brown. 

ELSWHERE IN THE FOURTH DISTRICT

State Rep. John Hetherington, a Republican representing New Canaan in the 125th House District endorsed Republican Congressional Candidate Steve Obsitnik for the Fourth District.

Earlier this week Mick Garrett of Bridgeport and Michael Jachimczyk of Stamford, both members of the Connecticut Republican Party State Central Committee endorsed Obsitnik. Both men represent GOP voters in State Senate Districts 23 and 27.

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