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Connecticut Lawmakers Pass Record Tax Increase

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Connecticut lawmakers, faced with the need to close an $800-million budget gap, last week agreed to the largest tax increase in state history and scaled back a proposed increase in state aid to districts.

The $694-million revenue package would raise the state's sales tax from 7.5 cents to 8 cents, making the levy the highest in the nation. The bill was passed over Republican objections.

The measure enabled lawmakers to approve a budget that includes $1.14 billion in aid to districts, $25 million less than anticipated but $10 million more than the amount requested by Gov. William A. O'Neill.

Lawmakers also passed a $1.6-billion bond package, the largest in the state's history. It includes $25 million for the joint construction of school facilities by urban and suburban districts to facilitate desegregation.

In addition, the General Assembly approved additional funding for other programs to encourage interdistrict desegregation, raised benefits for retired teachers, and established a pilot program to recruit minority teachers.

"Over all, it wasn't a great year, but it was a good year, given the fiscal climate," said Mark D. Waxenberg, president of the Connecticut Education Association.

In approving the budget, the legislature rejected Governor O'Neill's proposal to create an education trust fund financed by revenues from the lottery and other gaming, a portion of the sales tax, and other new revenues. Although supporters of the trust fund said it would have shielded education from cuts in the general-fund budget, critics maintained that it would have made education dependent on unstable revenues.

Under the retirement legislation, the state will fully fund health-insurance coverage for retired teachers when they become eligible for Social Security. The legislature also agreed to let districts offer early-retirement options for teachers.

The General Assembly also boosted funding, from $350,000 to $1 million, for a program to provide grants to allow urban and suburban districts to initiate joint projects to promote desegregation. Some 95 districts will be able to plan and implement such projects, said Gerald N. Tirozzi, the state's commissioner of education.

Mr. Tirozzi has urged voluntary approaches to achieve racial balance. A group of civil-rights lawyers, contending that such approaches are inadequate, have filed suit to force mandatory action.

Mr. Tirozzi also predicted that the new teacher-recruitment program could become a "national model."

Under the $300,000 program, the state will provide tuition and salaries for 60 paraprofessionals, many of whom are minorities, to enable them to take coursework leading to certification as teachers.--rr

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