Cautious Optimism Greets House Dems Budget
WETHERSFIELD - Two days after he was asked to present scenarios for $1 million, $2 million, $3 million, and $4 million budget cuts to brace for a Governor proposed executive order slashing all Education Cost Sharing revenue for 85 municipalities in the event that a state budget is not passed by October, Superintendent of Schools Michael Emmett was looking at the potential for a gain in education aid, courtesy of a House Democrats draft.

       “And the pendulum swings back again,” Emmett said over the phone. “It’s hard to plan when the scenarios vary so widely. I’m a week away from the start of school, and I’m still looking at reduction scenarios.”

       Emmett hopes the pendulum lands somewhere close to where the House Democrats are aiming it to-under their plan, Wethersfield would keep the $9.3 million Malloy intends to cut in the absence of a state budget, while gaining around $200,000 in additional education aid going into the 2018 Fiscal Year.

       The total state aid-non education revenue included-would come to about $300,000 less from 2017 to 2018, however. While the combined grants come to $10.6 million for 2017 under the House Democratic plan, it would end up around $10.3 million in 2018.

       “The bottom line is, it’s so much better for towns,” said State Representative Russ Morin on Friday.

       The sticking point right now seems to be the sales tax increase-from 6.35 to 6.85 percent-a component Morin said he accepted, but did not relish.

       “I’d rather not be looking at a sales tax increase, albeit a half percentage,” he said. “I thought we could look at some loopholes in capital gains.”

       He was happy to see the proposed hospital tax absent from the House Democratic budget.

       “Hospitals are huge employers in this region,” he said.

       Morin characterized the proposal as an attempt to incorporate proposals from all entities in the discussion, but admitted he’s “not sure if it will have the votes to pass”.

       He did note that the proposal includes rule changes on collective bargaining-a move directed at giving municipalities more latitude to consolidate functions and services in order to save.

       The $9.3 million Malloy proposes to eliminate makes up 16 percent of the district’s budget. Emmett and Board Chair Bobbie Hughes Granato have already forecasted that, under such a scenario, significant cuts would have to be made to staff and existing programs.

       The Board managed to avert turning to such measures when they reduced their budget ask by $500,000 this past spring at the request of the Town Council, which also expressed a desire to avoid layoffs. That discussion also presented multiple scenarios-the worst being a $1.5 million cut.

       As for the impending start to the school year, Emmett put on an optimistic face, noting that staffing levels-for now-are where they need to be, and that supplies were purchased over the summer.

       “We’re full speed ahead,” Emmett said. “I have everything I need to start the school year.”