Gov. Malloy proposes 2018-19 budget, cuts aid to wealthy towns

Governor Dannel Malloy unveiled a budget proposal for the 2018-19 fiscal year on Monday afternoon. The budget is an attempt to continue to close the deficit in the newly adopted budget for the coming biennium. Malloy takes aim at municipal, primarily in the form of reductions to education grant funding for most of the towns in Connecticut. The lowest performing districts will receive full aid, or even a small increase, while the wealthiest towns in the state will receive nothing, and everyone in between will see a reduction in aid.

Overall, the Education Cost Sharing grant would actually increase by $22 million, with the 33 lowest performing districts seeing a funding increase while all other towns saw cuts or the elimination of grant money entirely.

While aid for town roads would remain intact, other aid would be cut in most towns. Greenwich would see the largest reduction in aid of wealthy towns, with a total cut of just over $800,000.

In Darien, the ECS money would drop from $343,289 to nothing. Total aid would drop from $898,853 to $471,206, a reduction of $427,647.

Board of Education Chairman Tara Ochman reacted to the proposal, saying, “The proposed budget reflects the serious fiscals concerns facing Connecticut. The effects on education are of particular concern to Board of Education and are being watched closely. Funding decreases to the town are impactful, I do believe that we have strong leadership on all of our Boards to find the best way forward for Darien.”

First Selectman Jayme Stevenson, who recently announced her candidacy for Lieutenant Governor, said, “While it is not surprising that Governor Malloy continues to press his agenda of higher taxes and redistribution of “wealth”, what surprises me most is the fact that he is recommending an overall reduction in education aid statewide. Based on all we know about not only the fiscal challenges of our state but the kids who are underserved in some communities, this moves our state in the wrong direction.”

Looking locally at town government and possibly reaction, Stevenson added, “The Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance have been proactive in planning for the elimination of ECS funding to Darien. We saw the writing on the wall two years ago and made an important strategic decision to plan for self-sufficiency. We will, however, continue to underscore the importance of full funding for Excess Cost Reimbursements for our special needs students.  Those dollars are not reflected in what the Governor published yesterday.” Stevenson closed by saying, “Along with reductions in ECS funding, the Governor has also proposed a litany of new taxes, fees and reductions in aid as well as a plan to toll our highways. All of these proposed changes will reduce the willingness and ability of our local taxpayers to fund local services.”

Board of Finance Chairman Jon Zagrodzky also reacted negatively to the news, saying, “I am disappointed in the governor's proposals. The state remains focused on finding ways to fund unsustainable commitments, rather than reforming these commitments to make them sustainable. Until this difficult but important work is done, there really is no source of revenue that can close the gap.”

The General Assembly would still have to approve this budget, which is unlikely. A budget that passed for the biennium by a bipartisan veto proof vote roundly rejected similar proposed cuts to education aid from Malloy. Legislators in some towns have already begun to push back against Malloy’s proposal, as the idea of zeroing out education aid for any municipality has always been unpopular, particularly in an election year.

The legislative session begins this week, and it is fair to expect the proposal from Malloy to be strongly contested. Malloy has proposed zeroing out ECS money to wealthy towns over the past few years, and many towns like Darien budget to receive nothing in the interest of being fiscally conservative. However, all towns have gotten some ECS money by the time a budget is agreed upon.