Mayor Toni Harp sent a message to state lawmakers struggling to pass a new budget: If they bail out near-bankrupt Hartford, they shouldn’t endanger New Haven’s finances in the process and punish the city for having been more fiscally responsible.
Harp made the comments during her latest appearance on her “Mayor Monday” radio program on WNHH FM.
She addressed the upcoming special session the state legislature has scheduled to pass a two-year budget amid a projected $5.1 billion deficit.
“The state can push us into the same position that Hartford is in,” Harp said. “The real question for me is: How do we stop them from doing that? We have a strong [state legislative] delegation. And I think they know what our needs are. They’re going to be fighting on our behalf.”
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has proposed that the legislature somehow find up to $50 million in new aid to send to Hartford to bail out that city so it can avoid declaring bankruptcy.
Unlike Hartford, New Haven is not facing bankruptcy. It has generally been balancing its budgets.
But the Harp administration counted on $31 million in promised new state aid when it initially proposed a new city operating budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. As the budget news worsened at the state Capitol, it lopped around $15 million off that proposal by the time the Board of Alders last week voted approval of the final $538.9 million version. The budget does not raise taxes.
Now the waiting game begins for New Haven and municipalities across the state, to see how much the state cuts promised aid in its new budget. That will determine whether cities and towns must revise their own budgets, with new cuts, raised taxes, and/or other sources of outside aid.
On “Mayor Monday,” Harp argued that the city shouldn’t bail out Hartford at the expense of New Haven, a city that has built up its tax base (including an 8.4 percent leap this past year) and for years has dramatically cut the budgets of departments like public works and parks and rec.
“My argument to my delegation is: If they take on the problem of Hartford and the other towns that are near bankruptcy in our state, then they cannot not take on the problems of a New Haven, that has 53 percent of its property that we can’t tax. We can only raise the 47 percent. Our delegation has got to argue to the state that we’ve got to be able to continue doing what we’ve doing.
“In New Haven we have led the way for economic stability and growth in our state. I’m believing that our delegation will not allow this state legislature to push back New Haven from what it absolutely needs. Because it’s key to the development of the state.”
And if the state ignores the plea, and New Haven has to fill a gap of millions of dollars in its new budget?
“We will likely to have to find some places to cut. But we can’t cut enough” to meet that kind of gap, Harp said. To avoid raising taxes, she said, the city would “take a look at our friends that give us voluntary payments in lieu of taxes.”
“Friends” as in Yale University and Yale-New Haven Hospital.
The governor has proposed allowing cities to tax the property owned by not-for-profit hospitals like Yale-New Haven Hospital as a way to make up for the lost state aid. The hospitals have opposed the idea. (Click here to read about that.) Harp, who hasn’t embraced the idea, either, said that the city estimates it would collect $50 million from Yale-New Haven in property taxes. Rather, she said Monday, she might pitch the hospital on “stepping up” by increasing the annual $3 million in voluntary payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) it currently makes to New Haven.
Yale makes about $8 million in such payments, she said. She argued that the university, too, has the ability to rally behind the city and increase that amount in the face of potential state aid cutbacks.
Also on “Mayor Monday,” Harp fielded questions from listeners, including one about the city’s decision to increase to $200,000 its contribution to the Connecticut Open tennis tournament this year.
The question came via email from regular Independent commenter “Average Taxpayer.” It read: “The city budget just increased aid to the CT Tennis Center from $100,000/yr to $200,000/yr. In light of that, do you think the alders should be accepting free VIP tickets to the Tennis tournament and the upcoming Aretha Franklin concert? What is the official city ethics policy in this regard? Will you be accepting free tickets to Tennis Center events? What about city staffers?”
Harp responded that city officials do consider attending the tennis tournament part of the deal in providing public support — in part because they use the event as an opportunity to promote New Haven to businesses.
“I don’t know if you whether or not you would consider the [the tickets] free when we’ve invested $200,000. What is free once we’ve done that?” Harp said. “With the investment comes a certain number of tickets. They’re actually paid for.
“What I do every year, and we pay for it, is invite women leaders, some of whom are elected officials, some of whom are not, to come and have a luncheon and watch a tennis match. I think it’s improtant for us to support the Connecticut Open. The economic development administration has a small business initiative there where they invite small businesses. They pay for it. They also invite bigger businesses so they can have an opportunity to chat and see if there are ways to work together.”
Meanwhile, Harp said that no final agreement has been struck on an Aretha Franklin concert, which promoters hope to stage at the tennis center on Sept. 16. Harp in general endorsed the idea of testing out the idea of bringing concerts back to the stadium, which used to host them in the 1990s.
Click on or download the above audio file to listen to the full episode of WNHH radio’s “Mayor Monday” program, which also dealt with crime, the birth of a new park off Cherry Ann Street, the search for a new schools superintendent, .
The episode of was made possible with the support of Gateway Community College and Berchem, Moses & Devlin, P.C.