HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- The largest association of Connecticut cities and towns called on a state task force Tuesday to recommend the governor and legislators increase state funding for public education, despite a continuing drop in state revenues.
James Finley, executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said the Education Cost Sharing grant, the largest pool of state aid for local K-12 education, is underfunded by more than $763 million. That means local property taxpayers end up shouldering the bulk of the education costs, something Finley maintains they cannot afford to continue.
But Finley said he is worried the ECS task force will become overwhelmed by the fiscal challenges currently facing the state and not recommend that substantially more money be invested into the ECS grant program or special education.
"My advice to them and what towns and cities across Connecticut are saying is, 'you don't have to have to fully fund this in one year,'" he said. "But make that funding commitment; because right now, I think by anyone's estimation, the state is not meeting its state constitutional responsibilities to adequately fund pre-K through 12 public education."
Last week, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's office announced that the latest estimates from the state's legislative and executive branch budget offices show the state's tax revenues had fallen behind by $52.7 million since April, when the last revenue estimates were released. Republican lawmakers quickly pointed out how state revenues in total have fallen at least $128 million, and as much as $205 million, behind what was originally budgeted, triggering the need for a deficit-cutting plan.
Benjamin Barnes, Malloy's budget director is scheduled to provide an overview on Wednesday to the legislature's Appropriations Committee on the state's finances, and an update on budget shortages facing various state agencies.
Barnes, who is a leader of the ECS task force, said the group recommendations could be ready by the end of the month. He said they're not being based on CCM's projection that ECS is underfunded by more than $763 million. Barnes maintains there is no legal obligation for the state to fund the grant program at any specific level.
Barnes said he also does not believe the task force's recommendations will be bound by the state's budget challenges.
"However, I think the governor is committed to living within our means and balancing the budget and that is always a challenge and always forces us to make decisions about spending priorities," he said. "Education is clearly a huge priority of the governor's and I expect you'll see that reflected in his budget."
The new legislative session begins in January, and Malloy is expected to present a new, two-year budget in February.