Not happy with your Property Taxes?
Chris DeSanctis explains why Unfunded Mandates from Hartford are causing our property taxes to rise, and are a major problem for us here in Fairfield.
In case you missed it, the cover story in Barron’s on August 25th ranked Connecticut as the worst-managed state in the nation in terms of its outstanding debt and unfunded pension liability relative to its GDP. Needless to say, ranking as the worst state in the union in national publications is not going to attract or retain a lot of businesses, jobs or residents. The underlying huge problems with taxes, debt and unfunded liabilities must be addressed before they provoke a crisis that will severely limit our options. And if these highly visible state-level problems are not enough to make you wonder about how long you and your family should stay in Connecticut and about the future value of any property you own here, there is another big problem that hits us even closer to home – Hartford continues to pile more and more unfunded mandates on towns like Fairfield, driving our local property taxes higher and higher.
An unfunded mandate is a state law that requires a town to pay for something that it was not previously doing or to pay more for the services it wants to provide, in response to which it has only two options: either raise property taxes or cut other services, like patrolling neighborhoods, plowing roads or responding quickly to 911 calls.
According to the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, a state-wide, bipartisan association of towns and cities, there are currently over 1,200 unfunded or partially funded mandates; information on all of them is available on its Web site.
Some of the most egregious examples of forcing Fairfield to pay more than it would otherwise have to pay are the following:
- “Prevailing Wage Rate” is a law that requires towns to pay inflated wages on construction projects over $400,000 for new work and over $100,000 for renovation projects even if there are reputable contractors who are willing to do the work for substantially less.
- “Minimum Budget Requirement” is a law, believe it or not, that says education budgets cannot be reduced even if enrollment declines, even if efficiencies are found, even if savings are achieved, even if there was a surplus the year before. Towns should make that decision, not Hartford.
- “Compulsory Binding Arbitration” is a law that requires Fairfield to accept the judgment of an arbitration panel when the town and its public employees can’t agree on the terms of a new contract, even though the members of that panel are not accountable to our tax payers; a town’s legislative body can reject an initial arbitration award, by a two-thirds vote, but then the award of the second arbitration panel is final and binding.
- “In-School Suspension” is a new law that requires Fairfield to find suitable space and to pay the substantial cost of hiring paraprofessionals or teachers to provide all-day supervision for any student who is suspended unless it is too dangerous to do so. Previously, a suspended students’ parent(s) or guardian(s) were responsible for supervision.
Ultimately, the problem with unfunded mandates is one of Transparency and Accountability.
In its ceaseless, relentless creation of more and more programs year after year, the state Assembly should not be allowed to shift the economic burden of what it is doing onto Connecticut’s towns. If Hartford wants to create a new program or expand an existing one, then it should figure out how to pay for it with state revenues. Not doing so denies voters the transparency they need to evaluate whether their state representatives are serving them well, and to hold them accountable.
What can and should be done?
I believe we can solve this problem. Connecticut’s legislative leaders must:
1. Review and eliminate or reform all existing unfunded state mandates;
2. Ensure that estimates of any unfunded-mandates costs are accurate;
3. Require a two-thirds majority in the Assembly to enact any material new unfunded mandate;
4. Reform “Binding Arbitration” to give towns the right to reject any and all arbitration awards by a two-thirds vote of their legislative bodies;
5. Eliminate “Prevailing Wage Rate” restrictions on municipal projects
6. Reform the “Minimum Budget Requirement” to allow towns like Fairfield to decide on whether or not education spending should decline for reasons such as lower enrollment or efficiencies.
Any reform efforts will be much more productive if a majority of Connecticut voters decide that one-party rule for 36 of the past 40 years has not served our towns and state well.