NB Politicus

Rep. Sanchez Makes “Respect” for Early Childhood Educators A Priority As New Chair of Education Committee

Posted in Legislature, public education, state aid, state government by nbpoliticus on January 20, 2019

By John McNamara

State Rep. Robert “Bobby” Sanchez (D-25) is the new House Chair of the Legislature’s Education Committee who brings a strong background in early childhood education to his leadership post in the General Assembly this year.

Sanchez, a former New Britain Board of Education member elected to the House in a 2011 special election, shared his priorities at a League of Women Voters legislative breakfast January 19th at New Britain Public Library.

“Teachers in early childhood education are not respected,” said Sanchez, noting that most early childhood professionals entrusted with the care and development of pre-schoolers are not fairly compensated.  In Connecticut with its high cost of living, child care staff fare much better than the national average of $29,000 ($14 per hour), earning upto $40,150 ($19.30).  Advocates, however, say classroom teachers and aides not covered by union contracts can fall below the average.  On top of pay inequity, Sanchez also points to the requirement that all early child educators will need to hold bachelor’s degrees within a few years to meet accreditation standards. Getting those credentials means education expenses to make the grade as early childhood professionals.

Sanchez, a longtime case manager of early care and education and coordinator of the Fatherhood Initiative at New Britain’s Human Resource Agency,  knows the pay struggles of the people he works with every day.  Rep. Sanchez’ early childhood roots  go back deeper than you may know. “Bobby” is the moniker he uses on election ballots and with friends  — a name he probably latched on to when a teacher called him that at a Head Start classroom in New Britain when he was four years old. It may be that Sanchez is the first Education Chair who’s an alumnus of one of the Great Society’s most enduring programs that launched the movement for quality early childhood education for low-income children in the 1960s.

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State Rep. Bobby Sanchez LWV Legislative Breakfast  (photo courtesy of Frank Gerratana)

Sanchez’ views are in sync with the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance and its Executive Director, New Britain BOE Member Merrill Gay. “Early childhood teachers are among the lowest paid profession in the state,” according to the Alliance in advocating for supporting the child care work force last year.  “Early childhood teachers often rely on Care4Kids, HUSKY, SNAP and fuel assistance to make ends meet.”

To address the issue, the Alliance and legislative allies such as Sanchez are likely to push for “an increase in the full-day, full-year rate to $10,000 per child for School Readiness and state funded Child Development Centers indexed to any increase in the minimum wage, a higher infant toddler rate in recognition of the much lower staff to child ratio, delaying the B.A. degree deadline, and providing a rate bonus to programs that reach the staff qualification goal so they can retain the staff.”

The Education Committee will be addressing a score of major issues in the 2019 session, including school safety, curriculum, the education cost sharing (ECS) formula for school districts and child care subsidies that can nudge the pay for early childhood teachers up a notch.

It may be a tall order to secure adequate school aid and child care subsidies with state government saddled with built-in deficits and the pent up needs of other key services in the state budget this year  But Sanchez and his allies in education are prepared to make the case to Governor Lamont and the General Assembly that better pay for those who care for the very young are smart investments for the state’s future.

“Revolutionary” State Budget? Property Tax Relief, New ED Aid For NB Is Part of Democratic Package

by John McNamara

A tentative agreement among Democratic leaders on a biennial state budget  that begins July 1st appears to be good news for New Britain and other municipalities in terms of property tax relief and continued aid to the under-funded city schools.

Late Saturday (May 31) Democratic legislative leaders and representatives of the Malloy Administration agreed on a revenue package that will drastically cut the car tax. The measure will set aside the city’s property tax rate of 49 mills on vehicles and cap the tax for cars to no more than 29 mills in a statewide formula.   The levy on vehicles will be in effect for the 2015 tax year if OK’d in a final vote. At the same time the plan will designate a percentage of sales tax revenue for transportation and new funding to cities and towns to reduce burdens on property taxes.

New Britain's legislative delegation will wrap up the 2015 session June 3. From left Rep. Bobby Sanchez (25), Rep. Peter Tercyak (26), State SenatorTerry Gerratana (6) and Rep. Rick Lopes (24). Absent from photo is Rep. Betty Boukus (22)

New Britain’s legislative delegation will wrap up the 2015 session June 3. From left Rep. Bobby Sanchez (25), Rep. Peter Tercyak (26), State  Terry Gerratana (6) and Rep. Rick Lopes (24). Absent from photo is Rep. Betty Boukus (22). ( F Gerratana photo 2014)

The Democratic package, if approved by the Legislature, represents the most significant change in Connecticut’s tax structure in decades, making the system more progressive and fairer to New Britain and other cities.

Taxes will most certainly  increase by a smidgen for high-income individuals with the ability to pay. For most citizens burdened by one of the nation’s heaviest property tax burdens there is relief.  State Senate President Martin Looney (D-New Haven) called the proposal “revolutionary” and said “this budget meets the state’s obligations and provides historic property tax relief for the people of Connecticut,”  It includes provisions to:

–  Raise the income tax rate on millionaires from 6.7 to 6.99 percent

–  Maintain the state sales tax at 6.35 percent and designating half a percent each to local property tax relief and the Malloy transportation initiative. Proposed sales taxes on accounting, engineering, advertising and dry cleaning were eliminated from the plan.

– Triple the tax on computer and data processing from 1 to 3 percent.

– Adjust Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) grants to municipalities with high mill rates where state property and nonprofit institutions hold significant amounts of property.

As the legislative session ends New Britain’s legislators have been mobilizing to retain a fair share of municipal aid,  support state-funded programs and maintain New Britain’s share of education funding.

Details will be forthcoming over the next several days, but it is likely that the delegation has succeeded and the city will improve on the $85 million (covering 68%)  it now gets under state cost sharing formula to underwrite the education budget proposed by the Stewart administration at a flat-funded $124,183,673.

Despite billion dollar deficits confronting the Malloy administration and legislators in  state budgets since 2011, New Britain’s education aid has steadily increased over the last four years.  It will do so again if the budget package wins approval by Wednesday, June 3.

To be sure New Britain schools will remain under-funded in comparison to comparable communities in the absence of more equity in the way educational funding is distributed. The state budget package now on the table, however,  is a step in the right direction.  New Britain has fallen behind more sharply than others because of a consistent pattern of the city setting budget priorities that stiffed the schools year after year, but increased spending in municipal government. This year is no exception.

Attention now turns to the adoption of the municipal budget. The Common Council is due to act on  the Stewart Administration’s $224,757,851 budget and 49 mill tax rate by mid-June.  No matter how the city acts there is now room for optimism on property tax relief and education aid given the prospect of a “revolutionary” state budget plan being adopted.

Stewart’s double standard on state budget priorities

Posted in city politics and government, state aid by nbpoliticus on April 8, 2009

Mayor Tim Stewart has lashed out at New Britain’s all Democratic legislative delegation for reductions in local aid made in a Democratic state budget plan presented last week.

Stewart, facing the prospect of higher property taxes in a bad economy, delivered a “broadside” that takes aim at State Rep. John Geragosian (D-25), the House appropriations Chair, and the entire delegation for a proposed reduction in state aid from casino revenue.

Gambling dollars, originally sold as a means of supporting education, have become another component of state aid to cities and towns since a portion of income from the slots started coming in the early 1990s. The casino revenue is another form of payments in lieu of taxes since the two tribes with casinos are considered sovereign under federal law.

In a statement released this week Stewart takes issue with a reduction in gambling aid in a Democratic plan that addresses a confirmed $2.7 billion shortfall in Rell’s original budget proposal presented last February. “Stewart said he was extremely disappointed upon learning the proposal would mean a reduction of $865,000 in state funding for the city,” according to the Herald’s coverage.

Stewart’s complaint, however, rings hollow when you compare his response to the Democratic budget plan with his effusive praise of Governor Rell’s budget. In a joint statement last month Stewart and Bridgeport’s Democratic mayor, Bill Finch, praised Rell’s budget for not reducing allocations for schools under the Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) formula.

What Stewart and Finch forgot to mention was that most other forms of state aid to their cities was cut by substantial amounts in Rell’s proposed budget. With her balance sheet more than $2 billion out of whack, you would think Rell could have preserved other forms of local aid. Rell, for example, reduced PILOT funds (payments in lieu of taxes for CCSU, hospitals and state agency property) by $1.6 million. Overall, Rell’s numbers give New Britain 2.2% less by reducing PILOT, casino, capital improvement and town aid for roads, not to mention elimination of state services that benefit city residents.

The Mayor conveniently ignores the features of Rell’s plan that would severely compromise New Britain’s ability to deliver essential services. And Stewart, a Republican, has shown no inclination to ask his Republican Governor to work for a fairer deal for the city.

The Democratic legislative delegation remains a favorite target of Stewart’s derisive comments and partisan charges. It’s a refrain all too familiar for Stewart who has sniped at legislators in prior years. For all of Stewart’s years in office, the delegation and Legislature took on Rell and significantly upped state aid to the city when the economy was better and state revenues weren’t dropping off a cliff. Stewart has been the chief political beneficiary of using state aid to hold the line on property taxes thanks to the lawmakers he is so quick to criticize.

A comparison of Rell’s proposed budgets and those adopted through the Legislature has a consistent outcome: state aid amounts would have been a lot worse for New Britain had Governor Rell prevailed in the last state budget. And they would be a lot worse for New Britain this year if Tim Stewart’s friend in the corner office of the State Capitol has her way.

The reality of this budget cycle, as one state lawmaker put it, is that the Governor and Legislature have “to pick their poison” to balance the budget and maintain services. Stewart’s “blame game” tactics are predictable. But given the severity of the budget crisis, it would be a good time for the mayor to set aside partisan sniping and work cooperatively with the delegation. Time is running short as the city and state face a June deadline to adopt budgets for the fiscal year that begins on July 1.

Rell’s Local Aid: Placing More Burdens On Cities

Posted in city politics and government, property tax, state aid by nbpoliticus on February 27, 2009

The mayors of Bridgeport and New Britain have forged a bipartisan alliance to praise Gov. Jodi Rell’s budget package for level funding of education aid to cities and towns. All cities and towns will get the same amount for the single largest local expense item — the schools.

According to a New Britain Herald op-ed by Bill Finch (D-Bridgeport) and Tim Stewart (R-New Britain) and James Craven’s story sharing their togetherness, Rell’s proposal is a good start to the budget process for their towns. To be sure a status quo Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) for all 169 cities and towns is a good idea. It will mitigate somewhat the annual tug of war between city halls and boards of education.

But a closer look at Rell’s state aid formula shows that cities lose out in a big way compared to their suburban neighbors. At a February 19th Democratic Town Committee meeting on state aid and the federal stimulus package State Rep. Peter Tercyak (D-26) pointed out why Rell’s budget — estimated to be $2 billion out of balance in the early going — tilts against cities and their residents more than suburbia.

Cities such as New Britain have always relied on payments in lieu of taxes — PILOT funds — to offset the presence of state property, hospitals and agencies in their towns. Otherwise, taxable land is tax free when a state- or nonprofit owns it. The economically distressed cities, by and large, house the bulk of tax exempt property; the more affluent towns do not. PILOT funds, though not providing a dollar for dollar exchange back to the community, offset the presence of tax-exempt property with much needed revenue.

Rell’s budget slashes PILOT funds by double digit percentages. In Bridgeport, the Governor would cut PILOT money for colleges and hospitals from $11,200,500 to $10,041,445, a 10.35% decline. Aid for state-owned property in goes from $2,676,768 to $2,450,950, an 8.44% drop.

According to the percentage decreases, New Britain takes a bigger hit than Bridgeport on PILOT money. The current $3,561,936 for colleges and hospitals will drop down to $2,793,464, 21.57% less; payments for state-owned property go from $4,255,399 to $3,407,080, 19.94% less.

While Rell’s 0% decrease on ECS is welcome news for Bridgeport and New Britain; it’s equally welcome news for every town, rich and poor. Finch and Stewart may as well have been the mayors of New Canaan and Avon in offering praise for Rell’s budget.

The PILOT funding shows that in tough economic times Rell gives the rich towns a better deal than economically stressed cities. It’s just one more disadvantage that cities face and the long driveway towns won’t in paying for and delivering essential services.

That’s something Finch and Stewart can’t be so happy about and didn’t mention in their strong praise of Rell for level ECS funding. The Legislature now has the hard task of setting aside Rell’s fuzzy math and dealing with the most difficult budget cycle since the early 1990s.