In college football, there is no playoff to determine the national champion. Instead a series of bowl games settles the score, or not, as the convoluted formula deployed by the BCS (Bowl Championship Series) administrators, ranks and revises the pecking order of the top 25 college football teams, and then messes with who gets to play who in the bowl games. The Connecticut legislature in Hartford has much in common with the BCS, which is why there is debate about just who is the real national champion in college football, and in Hartford, just who is getting state funding.
The eight largest cities in Connecticut are Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, Stamford, Waterbury, Norwalk, Danbury and New Britain could be Big 8. Except that the bottom 5 don’t have much in common with the big 3. For the leaders of 17 mid-sized towns, the big 3 are the haves, at least in terms of state funding and state legislative priorities. The 17 have banded together to seek relief from Hartford’s penchant for unfunded mandates.
Invited by the mayors of West Hartford, East Hartford and Middletown, a group of 17 communities from throughout the state and representing a mix of Democratic and Republican administrations has met twice so far. They are completing a list of priorities this weekend to give to their legislators and plan a news conference at the state Capitol Jan. 6.
Joining the lead communities at the meetings this month were Bristol, Meriden, Fairfield, Hamden, Manchester, West Haven, Stratford, Enfield, Groton Town, Groton City, Torrington, Vernon, East Haven and New London.
The principal theme is this: The group simultaneously wants to distinguish itself from the eight largest cities Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, Stamford, Waterbury, Norwalk, Danbury and New Britain while emulating what the top three do best: cooperating on a legislative agenda.
The state is saddled with a gaping deficit and local aid is likely to drop next year. As a result, all these communities are faced with the prospect of raising taxes again even if spending is cut.
Perhaps the bottom 5 of the top 8 might want to get around to co-operating on legislative agendas. Co-opting the fight against unfunded mandates would be one. And the mid-sized city conference, in keeping with football analogies, has identified a few unfunded mandates.
The group’s priorities include: changing the way housing values are determined, from computer-driven mass assessments to a formula based on actual sale prices; fast-tracking state approvals on millions of dollars worth of development projects that are ready to proceed; delaying a new state law extending juvenile-court jurisdiction to 16- and 17-year-olds, which would require staffing and facility changes at local police stations that could cost as much as $100 million statewide; and putting off a new requirement for in-school suspensions, which would take up staff time and space.
So let’s see what school systems have triggered the in-school suspension law. According to a report issued by Connecticut Voices For Children, an education advocacy group, Bridgeport reported 22 percent of its school population received at least one out of school suspension, followed by Hartford at 19 percent, New Haven, New London and New Britain coming in at 17 percent. The state average was 7 percent. Note that the schools with the highest out of school suspension net the greatest amount of state aide for education. The school systems that don’t, rely in property taxes to fund their schools. And so the burden of a legislative decision to target a select group of school systems with endemic problems falls to tax payers of school systems that would rather, we hope, put their tax dollars into classroom instruction.
Then there’s the DOT. This dysfunctional state agency squanders millions and in addition sits on project approvals so that cities have to contend with loss of property tax revenue because projects are delayed. Rell and the legislature, essentially tut tut, about the agency but haven’t managed to split it, streamline it or even prod it into the 20th century.
Undoubtedly there are more unfunded mandates that could be addressed, more cost controls that the legislature could be addressing. But there’s an absence of discussion that continues.
source: Courant, Mid-Size Connecticut Towns Seek Power In Numbers, By JOSH KOVNER, December 27, 2008