Goldrick: BET Republicans cut schools budget to destroy school teachers’ right to collective bargaining

Sean Goldrick served two terms as a Democratic member of the BET

Greenwich taxpayers deserve a $40 million tax rebate.  Now.  The BET is sitting on tens of millions of dollars taken from taxpayers that we expected would eventually be put to use in improving our community, or bridging the gap in an economic downturn.  We did not hand over those funds so that the BET could sit on them, unused, the cash declining in real value, forever. 

We expected that when an economic downturn hit, our elected officials would tap those reserves to support our schools budget, to support the repair of town facilities, or remediate playing fields, like those at Western Middle School, standing idle and unusable.  But the BET refuses to make use of our taxpayer dollars.  So it’s time to demand that the BET return our money to us.

The town holds cash reserves total over $75 million.  Those reserves include $63 million in the “general fund balance-unallocated”; $11 million in the “capital non-recurring fund”; and $1.4 million in the “risk fund”.  The cash in capital non-recurring is meant to be used to repair or replace town facilities or capital assets that have been damaged or destroyed.  There is sufficient cash in that fund to completely remediate the chemicals-laced playing fields at Western Middle School.  Instead, the BET Republicans once again decided to do nothing.  The $63 million in the general fund balance could certainly be employed to keep our schools budget from being cut.  Yet holding $40 million in cash in that fund, the BET Republicans decided to slash over $3 million from the schools budget.  

The BET Republicans claim they utilized $19.4 million from fund balance to “balance” this year’s budget, a “record amount.”  But what they don’t tell taxpayers is that the $19.4 million utilized to “balance” the FY21 budget is not appreciably different from the amounts used from cash reserves annually over the past five years.  Indeed, that “record amount” is only slightly higher than the previous high.  They also neglect to point out that that $19.4 million use of cash still leaves $43.6 million untouched in the general fund balance that could have been used to keep the schools budget whole.  They also neglect to point out that the BET’s sloppy budgetary process permits town departments to build surpluses into their budgets.  So even though the town claims to “use” several millions of dollars of cash reserves each year, at the end of almost every fiscal year, town departments return millions of dollars unspent, not only replenishing cash reserves but increasing them by million dollars.  It’s likely that the entire $19.4 million of cash “used” this year will also be replenished, and possibly increased.  So instead of letting the BET keep tens of millions of our tax dollars unspent, while cutting funding for our public schools, we should demand that they give us back the cash, and let us try to support our schools.

How much would that rebate come to for Greenwich homeowners? The new mill rate stands at 11.682 mills. Given the latest estimated median single-family home price of $1,733,500, and a tax assessment based on 70% of market value, a homeowner of that median-priced home would be due a rebate of $1,265.67. Calculated another way, homeowners would receive a rebate of $104.30 per $100,000 of assessed value.

Giving taxpayers back $40 million would not damage our credit rating.  Greenwich is not only AAA-rated, but ranks among the top 10% of all AAA-rated municipalities nationally on the full panoply of metrics.  So even were we to reduce our cash reserves, our mill rate, lowest in the entire Northeast, our diversified economic base, our debt/equalized net grand list (“ENGL”) ratio among the very lowest, and our household income among the highest, mean that there is no danger of losing our AAA rating.

Let’s be clear: The BET Republicans cut the public schools budget not because they had no choice, but as a tactic to destroy school teachers’ right to collective bargaining.  It comes right out of the GOP playbook.  Indeed, when the GOP grabbed de facto control of the Connecticut legislature in 2017, they wasted no time attacking public education and teachers’ collective bargaining rights, slamming Connecticut teachers with a $95 million “teacher tax” without any attempt to negotiate with the teachers union, slashing funding for UConn that its board of trustees chairman Larry McHugh called “the worst attack on public education I have seen in 34 years,” eliminating scholarships for minority youth; and cutting grants for the state’s the poorest school districts.

BET Republicans have proven they have no intention of protecting our school system, no intention of remediating our toxic playing fields, no intention of acting as responsible stewards of taxpayers funds, and every intention of attacking our school teachers’ right to collective bargaining.  It’s time to demand that they return at least $40 million of our money to us.  We’ll deal with those BET Republicans at the polls.