Guv Malloy to make Cafero’s hometown whole on ed $$$

Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy’s administration will find a way to restore education dollars to Norwalk cut from the proposed budget.

How much of the lost $650,000 still needs to be clarified.

Norwalk is home to House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero and is the only municipality losing aid under the governor’s new fiscal plan.

“I think the governor is committed to restoring the money,” Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s senior advisor, said this afternoon. “Not in the same form. Singling out a town, which is what had been the case, for a single stream of education funding is not fair.”

That’s what legislators did for Malloy’s hometown of Stamford in 2009, but more on that later in this post.

At issue is a 2007 budget deal Norwalk legislators and House GOP Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero in particular cut with then-Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell and Democratic leaders.

Norwalk and Stamford, where Malloy served for 14 years as mayor, have constantly complained they do not receive their fair share of education grants despite being large cities. So during 2007’s push in Hartford to increase school aid for everyone, Norwalk’s bipartisan delegation convinced the powers at the capitol to correct the perceived imbalance and tweak statutory language in the city’s favor. It was a tweak worth $650,000.

This wasn’t a secret. Our Hearst newspapers in fact reported Cafero took the credit for pushing the matter during negotiations that involved Rell’s budget chief, Robert Genuario, a former state senator from Norwalk. 

Earlier this week Cafero, knowing Malloy pledged during his Feb. 8 budget address no muncipality would lose money for schools, noticed a cut to his city. Specifically while Norwalk gains more money under Malloy’s plan, it loses the additional $650,000, leaving a negative balance of $72,000.

Cafero went public with his concerns on Valentine’s Day. Occhiogrosso told the Associated Press Cafero cut a “back-room budget deal” with Rell that must be cancelled.

“As a result of that deal, he was promised that Norwalk would be treated differently than the other 168 cities and towns. What he promised in return you’ll have to ask him,” Occhiogrosso said.

But when Democratic leaders in the General Assembly needed to secure votes in 2009 for an income tax hike, they singled out Stamford for an education aid increase and offered additional budget perks to gain the support of tax-wary Sen. Andrew McDonald.

Malloy was wrapping up his final term.

And when Rell in late 2009 singled out that aid in a round of budget cuts, Stamford lawmakers cried foul.

“We feel very strongly that it’s a question of fairness — that what we did was correct a discrepancy that existed,” Rep. Gerald Fox said. “And we’ll fight to keep it in.”

Genuario at the time sounded an awful lot like Occhigrosso when he defended Rell’s decision.

“It’s the only increase … that any of the 169 municipalities received,” Genuario said. “It stood out … And there does not appear to be a formulaic basis for it.”

Occhiogrosso today maintained Norwalk’s deal remains uniquely inappropriate because it involved a change in statute.

“This was done as the result of a backroom deal,” he said. “And it’s not the way decisions on education funding should be made.”

Still, Occhiogrosso said, “The governor made a commitment to hold cities and towns harmless on education funding.”

What remains unclear is whether the governor will restore the full $650,000 or the lesser, $72,000 amount or something in-between.

Helping Cafero’s cause this week have been legislative Democrats from Norwalk also upset with Malloy’s cut to their city.

“Any legislator wants to do all they can for their communities,” Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said. “You don’t want to go backward, you want to go forward. We’ve worked hard to maintain what we’ve had. To go backward is not very appealing.”

He added, “My feeling is we’re going to be able to restore the $650,000 with the governor’s help.”

UPDATE: Occhiogrosso’s cagey on exactly how much Norwalk’s getting.

From his email this morning to me: 

“(The governor’s) intent for Norwalk is the same as his intent for the other 168 cities and towns: to make sure the state does the best it can in addressing the educational needs of the children who go to public schools in Norwalk.  What exactly that means in terms of dollars will be determined in the coming weeks.”

Brian Lockhart