By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer
HARTFORD — Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposed 2012-2013 budget so far is solid on education.
That was the consensus among most Democrats and Republicans on Wednesday after Malloy gave his first budget address before the House of Representative and Senate at the Capitol in Hartford.
Overall, the city’s top political leaders were cautiously optimistic about the governor’s proposed $18.2 billion budget and praised the commitment to education refrom, from preK-12 to higher education.
“What I’m hearing is good,” said Hartford’s 7th Assembly District Rep. Doug McCrory (D). McCrory is also vice chair of the Education Committee.
The 2nd District State Sen. Eric Coleman (D) agreed.
“Certainly, I like what’ve heard,” said Coleman, whose district includes Bloomfield, Windsor and Hartford. “But as we all know, there has to be an examination of the details. We have to face up to our reality…some things might be cut.”
Malloy said last week that one proposed cut not in the budget is a slash to the state’s Educational Cost Sharing grant. The ECS is a formula used to disburse money to schools. The governor also reiterated his commitment to closing the academic achievement gap.
“It is dismaying to all of us, that Connecticut has the largest achievement gap of any state in the nation,” he said in his 38-minute speech. “That so many of our children are falling behind without ever getting the chance to get ahead — is something we should not tolerate. That’s why, despite the fiscal challenges we face, I refuse to put an additional burden on our cities and towns by reducing funding for local education.”
Malloy also proposed education reform in the state’s school funding formula, support for future funding of universal prekindergarten education and teacher tenure rules so that administrators can retain talented teachers.
In addition, he proposed a new student data and teacher accountability system, $60 million for magnet schools, $6.5 million for charter schools, $7.2 million for Open Choice program and $50,00 for Regional Educational Service Center to study ways to regionalize transportation and save money.
Of the $18.2 billion proposed 2012-2013 budget,$2.8 billion, or 15 percent, is allocated to education.
Malloy’s budget address on educational issues also received applause from some Republicans.
Republican Chairman Chris Healy said he “gives him credit on education.”
But, Healy said, Malloy’s budget doesn’t cut anything.
“The Democrats definition of tax cuts is not spending more than what was spent last year,” Healy said.
And therein lies the crux of the debate on the budget as it moves to the Appropriation Committee next week. The proposed budget includes a “broadbase” tax increase of $1.5 billion. Budget Chair Benjamin Barnes said in his briefing that 19 percent of new taxes would paid by businesses and 81 percent of it by individuals.
Other highlights of the governor’s proposed budget includes a reduced number of state agencies by 30 percent, or from 82 to 53. Also, the first five companies bring 200 or more jobs to the state would receive a series of tax credits.
Sen. John Fonfara who represents the 1st District of Hartford and Wethersfield, said he is in favor of the proposed budget because it addresses energy reform, pre-school education and job creation. With the proposed budget, if approved “cities like Hartford will get the attention it needs,” said Fonfara (D). “We have some who understands the need of cities.”
But 5th District State Rep. Marie Kirkly-Bey (D) said she was concerned about proposed cuts that would affect the poor. Kirkley-Bey said the only direct mention of something that favors the poor is the Earn Income Tax Credit. Malloy calls for a “robust earned income tax credit of thirty percent.” This would allow an additional $1,7 00 per year for a family of four, he said.
Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra said he welcomes all the help the city and can get from the state and the EITC is a key issue that affects the city.
“I applaud the Governor for supporting a State Earned Income Tax Credit and additional monies for affordable housing and homelessness prevention efforts,” Segarra said in a statement to the press. “I am also pleased by his willingness to provide municipalities with optional local revenue generators; it clearly demonstrates that, as a former Mayor, he understands our present limitations, needs and challenges.”
Union officials also reacted to Malloy’s proposed budget, which calls for cuts in the higher education system, including community colleges.
“The Governor’s proposed budget is just that, a proposal. As I have noted previously, this is a kind of political and economic theater,” said Steve Cohen, president of the Congress of Connecticut Community Colleges in a email to members. “We are only now at the end of Act I, Scene I, so we have a long way to go until the “play” ends.
From Feb. 23 to March 4, the Appropriation Committee will hold public hearings to discuss the many needs and challenges in Hartford and other towns and cities. Residents can voice opinions, recommendations and suggestions to the state’s proposed 20012-13 budget.
Or they can do so at Malloy’s scheduled town hall meetings across the state in the coming months.