This article has been updated to include additional information received after deadline.
Both houses of Connecticut’s legislature have approved the $43.4 billion biennial state budget, just one day before the June 5 midnight deadline, and now Gov. Ned Lamont is expected to sign it into law. Political support for the budget fell pretty closely along party lines. But regardless of who voted yea and who voted nay, the final budget will have some implications for Wilton.
The CT Council of Small Towns (COST), an advocacy organization for smaller municipalities of which Wilton is a member, put together an assessment of what’s in the State Budget and Tax Package, and First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice shared that document with her fellow selectmen as well as with GOOD Morning Wilton at Monday evening’s Board of Selectmen meeting
Teacher Pension Pushdown: One area that had drawn a lot of attention in the months of discussion leading up to the final budget was the proposed teacher pension pushdown. The budget as approved does not include any shift of pension costs to the towns. The state will be refinancing the pension, effectively extending the time period longer and lowering any future contributions.
Education Cost Sharing (ECS) Grants: Another area that saw significant debate leading up to the budget approval was the Education Cost Sharing; earlier proposals saw significant reductions to the amount of money Wilton and other similarly wealthy towns would receive from the state. However, the version of the budget that was approved phases in any changes over a 10-year period.
When Wilton officials were building the town’s FY2020 budget, they believed the town would no longer receive any such ECS aid from state coffers, and so they eliminated that from any anticipated town budget revenues. However, the state’s current budget proposal actually does include ECS funding for Wilton, to the tune of $462,897 in 2020–only $282 less than it received in 2019–and $462,615 in 2021 (according to the CT School Finance Project).
“We are still slated to receive the Education Cost Sharing grant that we did not budget, so net favorable to us,” Vanderslice told the BOS on Monday night.
Additional Grants: What’s more, according to the CT Mirror, there are additional non-education grants that Wilton will reportedly receive, in the ballpark of $103,613. (The Mirror cites the CT Office of Fiscal Analysis and Office of Policy and Management as its resources.)
Additional numbers come from the CT Conference of Municipalities (CCM), another organization to which Wilton belongs. Its estimates for FY2020 grant monies for Wilton for certain key programs (other than ECS) are a little different.
Vanderslice hasn’t yet seen the final budget nor a summary of the bills that were passed, but based on the COST and CCM analyses, she doesn’t see any significant change from what had been expected.
“I don’t have info on funding for other grants we receive, nor do I have a sense of the potential impact of unfunded mandated town expenditures,” she says, citing two examples: “There was reporting that public health funding was cut. I don’t know the potential financial impact of the PTSD legislation,” she says, referring to legislation passed that expands workers’ compensation benefits for emergency responders with PTSD.
There’s still a lot that’s unknown, including the full impact on Wilton’s town budget. But late Wednesday night, Vanderslice heard one positive bit of news: “The mandated regional assessor is gone from the budget, which is a positive as we felt it was the wrong approach.” That means no change for the town assessor position.
Another area Wilton will still have to wait-and-see on is bonding, especially in the area of transportation spending and municipal projects. “It is my understanding that will be addressed in a special session,” Vanderslice adds.
Plastic Bags: The new tax package requires each store to charge a $0.10 fee on single use plastic checkout bags beginning Aug. 1, 2019, through June 30, 2021. Those fees–read, a bag tax–are expected to bring in $30.2 million in FY2020 and $26.8 million in FY2021. Last minute language changes eliminated an exemption on compostable plastic bags and biodegradable plastic bags, so this type of fee is pretty universal when it comes to plastic.
Presumably, the new tax will help train shoppers to start bringing their own reusable bags. However, environmental advocates didn’t win a similar push for a tax on paper bags. But the budget package does allow towns to enact stronger bans and even charges on paper bags. So far, there hasn’t been an organized push for such a move in Wilton, however, although many surrounding towns have taken steps to enact checkout bag ordinances, including Weston, Westport, Norwalk, Greenwich and Stamford.
Mansion Tax: According to COST’s analysis, the budget package “increases the real estate conveyance tax applicable to the sale of homes of more than $2.5 million. It also provides that such sellers may receive a credit on their income tax if they continue to reside in Connecticut.
Editor’s Note: GOOD Morning Wilton will examine the impact of Hartford’s budget votes on regionalization tomorrow.