House Speaker Brendan Sharkey announced Thursday a bipartisan commission in the state legislature to help cities and towns operate more efficiently by promoting and providing incentive for inter-town cooperation.
As the state faces a rising defict, the commission is charged with finding ways the state can help towns continue providing vital services to their residents, while working within the constraints of a budget.
The M.O.R.E (Municipal Opportunities & Regional Efficiencies) Commission will be composed of lawmakers from both chambers and both sides of the aisle, as well as local officials. A similar commission, led by Sharkey and consisting solely of House Democrats, existed in 2010.
The creation of this panel comes shortly after Gov. Malloy released his budget proposal, which drew criticism from local leaders who criticized it for containing harmful cuts to municipal aid funding. Sharkey said the panel would allow them to be a part of the budget process and participate in that discussion as it moves through the state legislature.
“We have held cities and towns pretty much harmless over the course of the past two years,” said Sharkey, who said that while other states cut municipal funding first in trying to balance the budget, Connecticut chose not to do that. “We’re still facing the budget realities that we are this year so we have to look at those efficiencies.”
Rep. Vin Candelora (R-North Branford), a member of the commission, said given those budget realities, focusing on regionalism was crucial now more than ever.
“In some ways, regionalization can bring savings, but it’s also a tough discussion to have on a local level when so many people want to protect what they have,” said Candelora.
Jim Finley, Executive Director and CEO of Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said his organization was looking forward to working with state lawmakers on the commission. He said municipal leaders across the state were committed to finding ways the towns could work together, and aware that in many circumstances that method of operation makes more sense. But town leaders too are aware of those budget realities.
“There’s no way you’re going to make up for the loss of $128 million in general fund revenue through new efficiencies and economies,” he said. “I think the effort of the commission is a good one but it’s certainly no substitute.”