State cuts not as deep as feared

When the dust finally settled late last week after the Connecticut legislature passed a $19.76-billion spending plan, the damage to Wilton’s finances was not as bad as originally feared.

The state budget closed a nearly $1-billion shortfall and as a result, many cuts were made, among them cuts in aid to municipalities and school districts. Wilton will receive $416,000 less in fiscal year 2017 than it did in fiscal year 2016. But that loss is blunted by new revenue the town is slated to receive.

At the Board of Selectmen meeting on Monday, May 16, First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice explained the town will receive about $450,000 less in the Education Cost Sharing grant, but will also receive $380,000 from the new Municipal Revenue Sharing Account that is revenue from the state sales tax.

In the end, she said, “We’re getting $165,000 less, so much better than where we thought we were going to be.”

On Tuesday, Vanderslice told The Bulletin, “I will be meeting with [Board of Education Chair] Bruce Likly and [Board of Finance Chair] Jeff Rutishauser to discuss how we will address the $165,000 shortfall between budgeted state aid and the final aid amount as approved within the state’s FY 2017 budget. I am sure we will come to a consensus as the amount is manageable.

“I am concerned about the state’s ability to live up to their commitment should the FY 2017 revenues fall short of projections as they did throughout FY 2016,” she added. “Further reductions in state aid are expected for 2018, so the three boards will be addressing that impact in advance of the normal FY 2018 budget time line.

The budget narrowly passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 74-70. All Republicans present and eight Democrats voted in opposition to both bills. The budget passed in the Senate 21-15. Senator Toni Boucher (R-26) was among those voting against.

Boucher called it a “punishing budget [that] hurts school children, hospitals, the sick, mentally ill or those struggling with drug addiction and substance abuse. Yet it protects the wages, healthcare and retirement plans of all unionized state workers.”

She added the cuts to towns would “translate into higher property taxes on residents, on the elderly, particularly those on a fixed income, and on our businesses.”

State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) had no kind words for the budget either.

“The 2017 budget is built on misplaced spending priorities and phantom revenues. It relies on one-time revenue sources and fund sweeps, decimates funding to hospitals, substance abuse programs, and services for the sick and the disabled, and cuts local education and municipal aid when most towns and cities have already set their budgets.

“Constant revenue shortfalls this year showed clearly that the state can’t collect all the taxes it has imposed, both because people and businesses have left or because personal income has dipped, as low-wage jobs replace higher-wage jobs in our economy. Yet this budget relies on arbitrary assumptions that revenues will grow not only from lawsuits filed by the state attorney general, car sales, real estate transfers, and fees, but also from more cigarette and alcohol sales and gambling. This budget is ripe for new deficits just around the corner.”