CCM: Connecticut budget’s devilish details tarnish final result

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With strenuous outcries from the business community to roll back proposed tax increases, some have questioned why the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities has not spoken out stronger in defense of a historical budget that takes systematic as well as important symbolic steps toward shifting local government’s reliance away from the property tax.

Those who believe CCM should be positioned in absolute defense of the budget have allowed the recent debate to be defined in a far too narrow context.

To be clear, CCM strongly supports legislative efforts to reduce property tax reliance. Multiple studies conclude that Connecticut’s property tax system is extremely regressive and contributes negatively in terms of economic viability while also placing a disproportionate burden on low and middle income tax payers.

We are appreciative that Gov. Dannel Malloy and legislative leaders have demonstrated their commitment toward finally addressing this outdated and overly burdensome tax system.

The story, however, does not end there.

As is always the case, the devil lies in the details and there are a series of broader issues that tarnish an otherwise well-intended work product.  The truly unfortunate thing is that it didn’t have to be this way.

Lost in the debate are details of significance to our local communities. Issues such as a municipal spending cap that does not contemplate costs associated with items such as capital expenditures.

Should Connecticut communities turn their backs on economic improvements in order to avoid being penalized by arbitrary parameters?

In fact, one of the biggest contributors to local cost increases are the unfunded mandates passed down to communities by the legislature.  Some of the very same state senators who spent the final weeks of the session trying to force costly mandates onto towns and cities are among those championing sending more state aid to local governments.

Many local leaders find it difficult to celebrate new funding appropriated by those who want to force communities to spend it before it even arrives and then penalize the community for the cost of the mandated expense.

Additionally, while the reductions in the car tax mill rate should be celebrated, assertions that affected towns are being held harmless during the transition are not accurate.

How did we get here? Many of the provisions originated as part of Senate Bill 1 (SB1). The legislature debated and advanced SB1 without the bill technically ever existing.

The Finance Committee passed the bill as an abstract concept. Legislators encouraged CCM to show strong support for the historical changes contained within. Our continued reply, “We would like to be able to read it.”

Our organization questions how legislation can be debated and advanced based off of its intent without anyone, including the state lawmakers themselves, being able to review and discuss the actual statutory language.

The good news is, while budgetary decisions are always difficult, fixing the process that led us down this path is much easier. Legislators cannot be expected to get it 100 percent right for everyone, however, perfect should never be the enemy of good. Our organization brings people from both sides of the aisle and diverse community interests together to work toward the betterment of all.

In recent weeks we have seen press events on the issue by the executive, House and Senate Majority, House and Senate Minority, business community and social services organizations. Each has stood independent and alone.

Moving forward we hope legislative leaders will work with local interests and bring interested parties together to avoid good intentions being overshadowed by unforeseen consequences.

Joe DeLong is the executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities

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