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Smaller State Government Doesn't Mean Big Savings

The legislative session began in Hartford and education reform is on everyone's lips.

The office of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed to eliminate 25 of the state’s 258 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.

“You’re talking some travel money, you’re not talking big money,” said state Sen. Len Fasano, a Republican representing Cheshire, North Haven and Wallingford in the 34th Senate District.

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,” state Rep. Gail Lavielle, a Republican representing Wilton and Norwalk in the 143rd House District. “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 didn’t comment.

SPEND TO SAVE

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.”

“As for adding more to the cost of the budget, we need to examine that,” Fasano said. “We can’t end our year on a deficit. We need to get a handle on that. I don’t want to see any gimmicks and one of the biggest gimmicks he has on the budget is the cap. He’s taking $78 million off charter schools and moving that to the ECS, which has no cap. To me that’s a gimmick.”

The fiscal situation in the state is unclear because so many different groups are predicting different versions of potential deficits or surpluses,” said State Rep. Kim Fawcett, a Democrat representing Fairfield and Westport in the 133rd House District.

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, which has some lawmakers scratching their heads.

“I think we need to look at education from a different prism. It’s good he’s willing to look at tenure, I think that’s a correct approach,” Fasano said. “But with ECS, my district is getting some money, but the lion’s share is going to problem districts. He’s doing the same thing as before which is throwing money at the problem.”

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. 

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.

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

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