[Updated, May 10] The bipartisan budget agreement passed by the General Assembly just before the legislative session ended at midnight Wednesday restores Educational Cost Sharing money to towns and cities, including West Hartford.
By Ronni Newton
Update, May 10
The General Assembly overwhelmingly approved amendments to the second year of the state’s FY2019 budget late Wednesday night, just before the legislatures’s required adjournment at midnight.
The Senate unanimously approved a bipartisan $20.86 billion budget deal, and the House approved it 142-8.
West Hartford will receive a $21.15 million Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) grant, according to information provided to We-Ha.com by State Reps. Andy Fleischmann and Derek Slap. The grant is about $760,000 more than was estimated in the budget adopted by the Town Council on April 24.
Modifications to the state’s FY2019 budget have not yet been voted on or signed into law, but State Rep. Andy Fleischmann of West Hartford (D-18th District) said Wednesday afternoon that leadership of both parties, in the House and Senate, appear to agree on a deal, and that plan would give West Hartford $2.26 million more in Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) money than the town received last year.
As the General Assembly heads into the final hours before it is required to adjourn at midnight Wednesday, legislators are scurrying to finalize details and put bills to vote to avoid going into special session.
“I have had extensive conversations with House Democratic leaders, and they have had extensive discussions with Senate Democratic and Republican leadership, and all four caucuses have signed off on this,” Fleischmann said.
Fleischmann did not have specific details of the budget plan available, but said that the total amount of ECS funds West Hartford will receive will be $21.15 million, which he said was $2.26 million more than the town received in the prior fiscal year.
Town Manager Matt Hart had originally proposed his budget with an estimated $18.6 million in ECS funding, the amount proposed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in February. However, when the West Hartford Town Council adopted its budget on April 24, roughly $1.8 million in additional ECS funding was added to the revenue estimate that was in the budget originally proposed by Hart.
Mayor Shari Cantor said before the April 24 vote that the adjustment was made after the legislature had been engaging in budget talks, and she and Hart had discussions with the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and the town’s legislative delegation, all of whom felt that Democratic and Republican leaders in the General Assembly were committed to funding ECS at the level in the adopted FY2019 budget, rather than at levels Malloy proposed in February.
“We are fighting for every penny we can secure for our schools and the local property taxpayers,” State Rep. Derek Slap of West Hartford (D-19th District) said Wednesday afternoon. “I’m pleased that once again we are able to put aside party differences, work across the aisle, and get this done.”
Based on the $21.15 million ECS grant for the town that Fleischmann and Slap said would be included in the latest bipartisan budget agreement, West Hartford stands to receive about $760,000 more than was estimated in the adopted town budget.
Hart said Wednesday afternoon that receiving more than was budgeted “would certainly be good news to the town.” He said that if the town does receive more ECS funding than budgeted, it will be up to the Town Council to appropriate it. “Management would present one or more recommendations,” he said, such as adding to the General Fund balance or funding capital projects.
The 41.0 mill rate will not change based on the state’s adopted budget, Hart said. By town charter, the budget is required to be adopted a certain number of days prior to the start of the next fiscal year, and the only change that could be made to the mill rate would be as the result of referendum. “Once the budget is adopted, the mill rate is set. Under our charter the Town Council is required to set a mill rate.”
The Town Council will periodically make adjustments to the budget during the year based on circumstances, Hart said, but not to the mill rate.
Fleischmann also said Wednesday afternoon that the budget deal that is likely to be signed will “make it impossible” for Malloy to make unilateral cuts to education funding, as he did last year through lapses and holdbacks.
Another bill, which Fleischmann said has bipartisan support and is likely to pass overwhelmingly, will ensure that no governor will be able to make mid-year cuts to ECS. “It’s intended to give us some assurances stretching into the future,” he said.
Fleischmann said he is confident in the “restoration of education dollars and secure in those dollars for the future.” Even if the budget vote doesn’t happen in time for the end of the session, he said that with the leaders of all four caucuses in agreement on a budget, and one that restores education funding to West Hartford, “it’s not if but when the budget passes.”
Check back with We-Ha.com for updates.
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