Attorney General's Opinion
Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal
June 8, 1993
Representative Thomas D. Ritter
Speaker of the House
Legislative Office Building, Room 4100
Hartford, CT 06106-1591
Dear Mr. Speaker:
By letter dated February 26, 1993 you have asked for our advice as to whether an increase in the amount of money appropriated to municipalities under the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant program (Conn. Gen. Stat. e10-262h) which has been recommended by the governor for SFY 1993-94 is properly counted as a "general budget expenditure" for the purposes of determining whether the authorized expenditure limitation imposed by Conn. Gen. Stat. e2-33a, commonly known as "the spending cap", will be exceeded. It is our opinion that any increase in the amount allocated to municipalities pursuant to the ECS must be considered a "general budget expenditure" for the purposes of determining whether the expenditures which may be authorized by the General Assembly for SFY 1993-94 fall within the limit on authorized expenditures contained in e2-33a.
Section 2-33a imposes a limit on the amount by which the General Assembly may authorize an increase in state expenditures in any particular fiscal year. The "general budget expenditures" authorized by the General Assembly may not exceed the "general budget expenditures" for the previous year plus a statutorily prescribed amount which is keyed to the increase in personal income of state residents or to the rate of inflation, whichever is greater. Certain expenditures are excepted from the computation of the "general budget expenditures" by subsections (1) and (2) of e2-33a. Among the items of expenditure which are not counted toward "general budget expenditures", and thereby not subject to the e2-33a cap on authorized expenditures, are certain expenditures related to court orders. According to subsection (2) of e2-33a "expenditures for the implementation of ... court orders shall not be considered general budget expenditures for the first fiscal year in which such expenditures are authorized, but shall be considered general budget expenditures for such year for the purposes of determining general budget expenditures for the ensuing fiscal year." Your specific question is whether the proposed increase in the amount of money to be appropriated to municipalities through the ECS grant program in SFY 1993-94 falls within this exception to the spending cap. This proposed increase in funding would not be exempt from the cap for two reasons.
First, the proposed increase in the appropriation for the 1993-94 ECS grant program does not fall within the "court order" exception because there is not now, nor has there ever been, a court order requiring specific expenditures under the ECS formula or its predecessor, the Guaranteed Tax Base (GTB) formula. In Horton v. Meskill, 172 Conn. 615 (1977), the court declared unconstitutional the then existing scheme for financing local public school districts. The court did not enter any specific orders against the state, however. To the contrary, "the trial court limited its judgments to declaratory ones"; Id. at 650; and the Supreme Court did the same, noting that "the judicial department properly stays its hand to give the legislative department opportunity to act." Id. at 651.
Subsequent to the decision in Horton I the legislature adopted the GTB formula to replace the unconstitutional statutory financing scheme. The constitutionality of the new formula was challenged in Horton v. Meskill, 195 Conn. 24 (1985)(Horton III). In this second challenge to the state's school financing formula the plaintiffs asked the court to order a specific level of state funding for local school districts, but the Supreme Court upheld the trial court's decision which had rejected that request:
The plaintiffs' sought to impose state funding of 50 percent of overall educational expenditures as the only constitutionally adequate response to educational disparities. The trial court carefully considered that proposal and correctly decided that assigning a fixed share of expenditures to the state did not provide a sound basis for assuring a proper distribution of responsibility or of funding for substantially equal educational opportunities.
Horton III, 195 Conn. at 40-41.
The Supreme Court went on to find that the GTB formula did, overall, pass constitutional muster.1 As in Horton I, the court in Horton III did not order any specific expenditures. There are no court orders arising out of the entire Horton v. Meskill litigation which would make expenditures authorized pursuant to the ECS grant program exempt from the spending cap.2
Even if Horton I or Horton III had resulted in a court order requiring specific expenditures, there is a second reason why the proposed increase in the ECS grant program in SFY 1993-94 would not be exempt from the spending cap. By its terms the exemption for expenditures relating to court orders is limited to expenditures in "the first fiscal year in which such expenditures are authorized." Conn. Gen. Stat. e2-33a(2). It is clear that the legislature responded to the Horton v. Meskill decisions many years ago. SFY 1993-94 is not "the first fiscal year" in which expenditures responsive to the decisions in Horton v. Meskill have been authorized. Under the plain language of e2-33a expenditures made necessary by court orders are only exempt from the spending cap for one year. Thereafter they are considered "general budget expenditures" for the purpose of measuring compliance with the spending cap.
We hope this advice is of assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
John R. Whelan
Assistant Attorney General
1 The Supreme Court remanded the matter to the trial court for further consideration of the constitutionality of certain amendments to the GTB formula. Legislation enacted since the Supreme Court's 1985 decision has rendered these questions moot.
2 The ECS grant formula is the successor to the GTB formula. 198 Conn. Pub. Act No. 88-358.