Written by Terry Jones, Working Lands Alliance Chairman and Shelton Farmer
Governor Malloy and members of the General Assembly are wrestling with various options to solve a projected deficit which exceeds $5 billion over the next two years. History informs us that this problem can be addressed in only a limited number of ways — spending cuts, increased revenue, additional borrowing, and of course, the paradoxical action of sweeping and diverting dollars from dedicated funds — those funds intended to be used for specific purposes and not for the general operation of state government.
One of these dedicated funds is the Community Investment Act (CIA) which was created by the General Assembly in 2005. This account contains funds — collected when deeds are filed on town land records — that, by law, are required to be used for five primary purposes: affordable housing, dairy farm sustainability, farmland protection, historic property preservation and open space acquisition. Since its creation, the CIA has funded more than 1,400 projects, investing more than $150 million throughout the state in virtually every municipality. These investments are often expanded through additional public/private partnerships that help to amplify and grow each project.
When it comes to the value of CIA investment in Connecticut’s efforts to preserve farmland and improve the economic viability of our farms, the data speaks for itself. In the 11-year period prior to the availability of CIA funds for farmland preservation, only 46 farms were permanently protected. In contrast, in the 11 years since its inception, Connecticut has permanently protected 116 farms.
CIA funding through the Dairy Sustainability Account has also provided critical support to our dairy farmers who use a significant amount of Connecticut’s farm land to sustain their milking cows. Farm transition and viability grants have been awarded to over 400 farmers and organizations that support Connecticut agriculture. Another program, Farm Link, partners new and beginning farmers with retiring farmers who have land resources.
These examples, in addition to countless others from all CIA partnering sectors, demonstrate the remarkable impact that the CIA has had across Connecticut. Urban areas have benefited from funding for park and garden projects in addition to historic preservation and affordable housing projects. Working quietly and without fanfare, these programs have a remarkable impact all across Connecticut.
It would be natural to suggest that everyone — and every fund — should do their part in helping to solve the state’s fiscal problems. In fact, 50 percent of the revenue intended to be deposited directly into the CIA over the last 18 months has already been diverted to the General Fund. This diversion, which was authorized by the legislature two years ago, is scheduled to end on June 30th of this year. In addition to incoming revenues, funds already deposited into the CIA have also been transferred to the General Fund to help address Connecticut’s budget deficit.
As the Governor and members of the General Assembly debate the various options available for addressing the budget deficit, they should recognize how the CIA has contributed to our economy and consider the numerous ways in which it benefits Connecticut residents. Let the CIA continue to do its part, not by helping to plug budgetary holes, but rather by remaining true to its original intent of making meaningful and everlasting investments in Connecticut communities.
CIA is an effective, self-funding program — outside the budget — fulfilling one of the highest purposes of governance — providing catalysts for investing in healthy communities and our economic well-being. It’s a proven program which creates jobs, helps small businesses, adds to our local economies and it pays its own way each and every year. The program is truly a smart growth, quality-of-life package! It’s good for business and people throughout all Connecticut — cities, towns, and rural areas alike.