Biennium Budget Goes to Governor Lamont for Signature

June 5, 2019

The Connecticut General Assembly passed its biennial budget of expenditures, and it has been transmitted to Governor Lamont for his signature.

During the drafting process, I fought on your behalf, securing key provisions to benefit not only you, my neighbors in Windham, but also vulnerable populations throughout the state.

Members voted favorably on this proposal because it emphasizes three key areas: (1) ensuring the opportunities of our children, (2) supporting our seniors, and (3) facing our fiscal future.

Opening Opportunities

In this budget, we are investing in our most promising asset: ourselves. By funding the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) and Alliance district grants in a more equitable manner, this budget puts our children first.

The ECS formula is intended to equally distribute funding to municipalities based on a town or city’s property tax base and ability to raise property taxes to pay for education, however, before the 2018 legislative session, some towns were over funded by 100 to 400 percent, while others received less than 70 percent.

In this biennial budget, the General Assembly has projected Windham will receive $27,999,008 in total education funding in 2020. A portion of this, $3,829,291, will be Alliance District funding.

Windham will receive approximately $29,008,213 in total education funding in the 2021 fiscal year. The total amount of education funding Windham will receive is estimated at $57,007,221. That amount is subject to change based on a variety of factors, including changes in town wealth, student population and more.

Windham's education funding in the 2020 fiscal year is an increase of $1,009,205, or 3.7 percent over the 2019 fiscal year. During that year, Windham received $26,989,803 in education funding.

The ECS formula was adopted in 1988 in order to replace the Guaranteed Tax Base (GTB) formula and Education Enhancement Act (EEA) grants to equalize the proportion of state funding.

The GTB formula was adopted in response to the 1974 case Horton v. Meskill that ruled basing education funding on local property taxes was unfair due to differences in property wealth. The court ordered the state to establish a funding system to ensure all Connecticut students have equal access to educational opportunity.

In 1984, the court re-opened Horton v. Meskill because it did not fully fix funding inequalities. This led to the Education Enhancement Act in 1986 to raise teacher salaries and decrease the pupil-teacher ratio in districts with most pupils per teacher. This also established a three-part test to prove that if expenditure disparities are significant enough to jeopardize students’ fundamental right to education, then the state must show they are due to a state policy.

Additional constraints were put on taxpayers after then-Governor Lowell Weicker Jr. established the income tax cut and reduced the capital gains, dividends and interest taxes from 14 to 4 percent in the early 1990s. This coupled with Reagan-era tax cuts for the wealthy and Connecticut’s decision to eliminate tolls, municipalities saw the tax burden further shift onto the middle class.

The state’s 35 distressed municipalities saw their tax bases shrink, but did not receive an increase in government subsidies, so education funding was further stretched.

These schools were ineligible for federal or privately-funded grant opportunities, but the 1996 Connecticut Supreme Court case Sheff v. O’Neill ruled Hartford schools remained segregated even after integration, and the state must take the necessary measures to integrate the schools, which led to the creation of magnet schools, and an increase in education funding for Hartford, and other distressed municipalities.

However, it was not until last session that Alliance districts were recognized for funding losses suffered under the Weicker administration.

Since 2018, a progressive formula has been used to better equalize distribution of education funding throughout the state, and in combination with the House-approved budget, we can reliably offer our children more equal access to the educational opportunity that they deserve. With the addition of Alliance district funding, our teachers can focus on what they do best—molding future leaders.

In this budget, we make sure to fund workforce development programs, connecting the unemployed with employers, many of whom desperately need skilled workers. With our manufacturing pipeline initiative, funding for youth employment, and establishing of a re-entry pilot program for adults, we position ourselves for a fairer future, one where everyone can benefit from our economy’s growth.

Additionally, for youth caught up in our criminal justice system, we will protect, in this budget, our juvenile justice programs, so that no one, regardless of past mistakes, is denied the chance to live up to his or her potential.

Supporting Seniors

After Governor Lamont’s proposed an asset test for the Medicare Savings Program, I heard from many of you, frightened by the financial implications and abruptness. Today, I am happy to say that the Appropriations budget rejects this sudden asset test and upholds our continued promises to seniors.

Recognizing the unique challenges with which our seniors must contend, we have signaled our commitment to seniors by increasing funding for critical programs, such as Meals on Wheels. Due to rising costs, many programs would otherwise be forced to cut back on services.

Facing Our Fiscal Future

First under Governor Dannel Malloy, and now under Governor Ned Lamont, we have committed to paying our bills in a long-term, sustainable manner for the first time since the 1990's. With this budget, not only do we meet the annual required contributions towards legacy pension costs, but we also co-fund our state employee retiree health insurance and increase the state employee contribution for pensions. Each year, these fixed costs, which also include debt service, continue to grow, consuming a greater and greater portion of annual expenditures.

It is against this backdrop, then, that we have crafted a budget capable of delivering the aforementioned services and accomplishing much more beyond that, including investment in tourism, and maintains funding for our Passport to the Parks fund and Meals on Wheels programs.

The budget passed in the Senate and the Governor has promised to sign it for final passage. We’ve worked hard to present a budget that is a reflection of our values and aspirations for the future. With this budget, I believe we offer not only growth but security for the residents of Connecticut.