Top 10 stories of 2017: #10 — Well beyond deadline, state budget is adopted
It seems as though just about every year in review could feature a look back at tumultuous state budget talks and fiscal unrest. Naturally 2017 was no different. Lawmakers continued to try and address massive budget deficits caused by decades of poor financial management, enormous pension and retirement benefit costs, and other heavy burdens. The original deadline to pass a budget for the biennium is in early July, but it was not until the end of October that a budget finally passed.
It was a rough and bitter road to finally reaching a budget. Governor Dannel Malloy ran the state’s finances via executive order after the budget deadline came and went, leaving a number of services and offices without funding. Leaders and representatives in both parties publicly stated disapproval for the situation, but contentious talks continued. With the senate at an even 18-18 split and the house also closely split, budget votes typically went down party lines and making any real progress was a struggle.
A number of issues caused the delay. Most publicized was the possibility of shifting some of the costs of teacher pensions to municipalities, a move which would have added millions in costs just in Darien. Many towns pushed back, Darien among them, saying they did not want to be saddled with the costs of contracts they had no say in negotiating. Education aid was another major issue, as Malloy threatened via executive order to reduce all Education Cost Sharing grant money to nothing for every town except the 30 lowest performing districts.
There seemed to be no progress at all through the summer until mid-September. Republican lawmakers put forth a budget and three Democrat senators supported it in a move that took many of the Dems by surprise. There would be similar defections in the house, and the only move that prevented the GOP budget from being adopted was a veto from Malloy in early October. The GOP budget had large cuts to UConn, totalling around $300 million, and this was one of the major reasons Malloy cited for the veto.
Still, the defection from Democrats was seen as a jumping off point for more collaboration and compromise between the two parties. By the end of October, the two sides had come together and come up with a budget that passed in both the Senate and House by a veto-proof margin. After fearing Darien would receive little to no aid at all, including the Board of Education once again budgeting to receive nothing in ECS money, town aid for 2018 under the passed budget is slated at $941,916, which is actually up from 2017. ECS money for 2018 is $386,349, down from the 2017 total of $406,683, even though the town budgeted for nothing in both years. In 2019 under a new ECS formula, Darien is set to receive $412,838.
All of Darien’s representatives at the state level reacted positively to the budget. There were acknowledgments that this budget was not perfect, but the bipartisan process and compromise that happened to get there were long overdue.
Of course, in the spirit of how the whole process went, it could not come to a simple conclusion. Malloy has recently asked for a special legislative session to address the current year budget deficit of over $200 million. Malloy also began some cuts, and the numbers for local aid were his targets. Darien’s ECS money took a small hit down to $343,289, and it is unclear what else could be coming as the deficit needs to be closed.
While bipartisanship was the strength of getting the budget done, it seems that the fiscal uncertainty in Connecticut will rage on.