"I'm not going to turn down $71,000, but I'm not going to hail it as 'Wow!' It's ho hum," Murphy said.
That didn't stop legislators from trumpeting the budget deal as a great achievement for cities and towns.
"These additional funds will help every city and town across the state," Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said on the Senate floor. "It not only provides for higher quality of town services, but it will provide tax relief by lowering the burden on local taxpayers."
The budget deal that passed the Senate 25 to 11 Tuesday now awaits Gov. M. Jodi Rell's promised signature. It provides $4.9 billion in aid over two years to municipalities for schools, roads and other projects. The House passed the tax-and-spending plan early Tuesday by a vote of 100 to 50.
"I'm not going to hail this as a great measure of property tax relief," Murphy said. "The budget is designed to help cities like Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport."
Bridgeport is getting $178 million, a $9.4 million increase. Hartford got the most state aid at $218.9 million, a $10.8 million jump. And New Haven got $188 million, an increase of $7.2 million. Also, in the first year, the three largest cities will get one third of the $62 million boost in state school funding.
The $31 billion budget included increases in funding for health care and education, while raising taxes on businesses and estates. But for many municipalities, the modest boost in funding is not enough, officials say.
Newtown First Selectman Herb Rosenthal was angry the budget deal did not keep the real estate conveyance tax on home sellers at 0.25 percent. It will drop to 0.11 percent, which could cost Newtown $500,000.
"Our number one priority was to keep the conveyance tax," said Rosenthal, who is also the vice president of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. "If the conveyance tax goes, it will take back any increase in aid we get from the state. Legislators are not being truthful. How are they helping municipalities?"
A bill to maintain the rate at 0.25 percent cleared the legislature's tax writing committee, but under the budget agreement reached between Rell and Democratic lawmakers, the proposal was eliminated from the budget. A separate bill was still on the House calendar late Tuesday, though the Senate had not yet scheduled a vote. Still, it's possible the rate could be restored before the legislative session ends at 11:59 p.m. today.
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who also said the city needed the real estate tax, scoffed at lawmakers who claimed the budget was good for the cities.
"That's absolute fiction," Boughton said. "It's not wonderful for municipalities. It gives in one hand and takes from another."
Danbury got about $1 million from the real estate tax last year, and is getting $1.4 million more in statutory grants.
"We are thankful for the increase, but if there is no conveyance tax, it's a $1 million cut," Boughton said. "This is still far below the levels of funding we got in 2001 and 2002. It's at least $1 million short and that's without an adjustment for inflation."
Redding Comptroller Lawrence Hutvagner also anticipates a major net loss for the town if the conveyance tax is not restored.
"If you don't include the conveyance tax, it's a wash," Hutvagner said. "They make it sound like they're doing a great job for towns. The problem is, they're giving us less."
New Fairfield Finance Director Mary Ann Weisner said the state's allocation for the town doesn't come close to covering expenses incurred from state mandates that require towns to reassess the value of property more often and build expensive storm water management plans and new water systems for local schools.
"For my town, the increase is so minimal it does not begin to cover the state mandates," Weisner said.
Bethel First Selectman Alice Hutchinson welcomed the increase for her town, but agreed cutting mandates - or paying for them - would be the most desirable state contribution.
"More money is always a call for celebration, but I wish the state would back down on some of the mandates we don't have the money for. These are requirements from the state and they should either address these mandates or fund them."
Contact Fred Lucas
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