State Biennial Budget Approved
On October 31, after 123 days without a budget, Governor Malloy signed into law a $41.3 billion biennial budget plan. Connecticut was the last state in the country to adopt a budget. The Governor did exercise his line-item veto authority to reject the sections related to the hospital tax which he claimed were flawed and would cost the state $1 billion.
At the behest of the Governor, legislators returned to the Capitol to fix the hospital tax (as well as a renters' rebate program and other aspects of the new budget), with both chambers approving the bill this week of November 13. The Governor is expected to sign the bill into law.
To re-cap, with respect to CLCC priorities, the budget includes the following:
Community Investment Act: Sweep of $5 million in each of the next two fiscal years.
For the next two years, $5M of the Community Investment Act (CIA) account, the only consistent source of funding for the Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP) Open Space & Watershed Land Acquisition (OSWA) Grant Program (including 3 staff positions), will be diverted to the General Fund to help offset revenue losses.
CLCC and its partners are working to determine whether the cut will be distributed evenly across the four sectors that are funded by CIA (DEEP, State Historic Preservation Office, Department of Housing, and Department of Agriculture). Assuming an even distribution, DEEP would lose approximately $1.25 million in funding for the OSWA (including the Urban Green/Community Garden Program) for each of the next two years.
While it would obviously have been better to have full funding for the CIA, this reduction is an improvement over the 50% cut the program had to endure through the previous biennial budget. In light of the fact that earlier iterations of the budget proposed a 100% sweep, you should pat yourselves on the back for protecting the CIA to the extent that you did. Your calls, letters and emails definitely made a difference.
Bond Package: No New Bonding Authorized for OSWA, Recreation & Natural Heritage Trust (RNHT) or the state Recreational Trails & Greenways Programs
The $3.5 billion, two-year bond package does not include any new authorizations for either the OSWA or RNHT Programs. Note that no bond funds have been released by the Bond Commission for either program since 2014. In addition, some previously authorized but unallocated bonds (i.e. not released by the State Bond Commission) for both programs were cancelled or reduced. However, not all previous authorizations were eliminated in the final budget plan, thus leaving some bond funding available for both programs should the Governor choose to direct the State Bond Commission to release the same. Finally, there was also no bonding authorized in the budget for the state’s Recreational Trails & Greenways Program, which leaves this important program without any funding for recreational trails grants moving forward. These grants can be used for land acquisition associated with recreational trail connections.
Bottom line for OSWA Grant Program:
Barring any further sweeps of CIA funds from DEEP, there should be sufficient funding for the grants submitted in the current round, which have yet to be announced, and for those applications submitted in February 2018 -- albeit likely at a lower percentage than in years' past due to the funding constraints.
We will continue to closely monitor the status of the grants, as well as any proposals which further negatively impact the CIA.
Funding for State Parks and other DEEP Programs: Passport to the Parks Program Approved
The budget included the Passport to the Parks Program, which will generate approximately $13.9 million in new revenues in the FY 2019 Budget for the Passport to the Parks fund. Funded by a $10 charge added to DMV vehicle registration (paid every other year), this new dedicated, non-lapsing account will support the operation and maintenance of state parks, as well as other programs, including Conservation Districts and the Council on Environmental Quality. For Connecticut residents, the program means no more parking fees at State Parks starting in January, 2018.
A big thanks to the Connecticut Forest & Park Association and The Nature Conservancy for leading the charge in support of this program. Read more >>
Council on Environmental Quality Saved
Slated for complete elimination under the Governor's original proposal for a biennial budget, and throughout the budget negotiations, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) did not look to be a priority for funding in any of the budget proposals for FY18-19. However, thanks once again to your advocacy, the final approved budget included full funding for the agency in FY18 through the General Fund and, subject to legislative appropriation, funding in FY19 through the Passport to the Parks Program.
Energy Conservation Programs – Bad News
It is worth noting that the budget includes sweeps of $87.5 million per year from three energy conservation programs:
- $63.5 million from the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund;
- $14 million from the Green Bank; and
- $10 million from Connecticut’s part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a nine-state coalition.
The first two of those funds receive funding generated from surcharges on consumers’ monthly utility bills. The raid of the Green Bank fund is particularly shortsighted because it leverages an estimated $8 to $10 in private investments from every $1 utility customers pay into the program.
Preparing for the 2018 Legislative Session Begins Now
With literally no break in the action at the Capitol, CLCC is readying our 2018 Conservation Agenda and also gearing up for anticipated budget mitigation talks which may further impact our priorities. As always, we will count on your participation in our advocacy efforts to protect the programs you count on for your work, and to support legislative initiatives to advance land conservation efforts across the state.
Thank you for your support and your energy. We couldn’t ask for better partners. Together we will continue to speak up, stand strong and make a difference!
Amy Blaymore Paterson, Executive Director