People’s Caucus Unveils Budget Plan

Thomas MacMillan Photo(Updated with city, schools response.) Slash the finance department in half. Cut $583,000 from city libraries. Take $40 million away from public schools. Cut taxes by 5 percent and create a “WPA” jobs program. And become more like Lowell, Mass.

Those are some of the recommendations laid out in a proposed spending plan unveiled Friday by the People’s Caucus, a breakaway group of city lawmakers.

The 59-page document includes a critique of Mayor Toni Harp’s proposed $511 million budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Harp’s budget includes a 3.8 percent property tax increase.

Harp’s budget is now under consideration by the Board of Alders Finance Committee. City lawmakers will take a final vote on the budget at the end of May.

The People’s Caucus—a group of six alders formed as an alternative to the union-affiliated board majority—will hold a public meeting on its document at 3 p.m. on Saturday at the Hall of Records at 200 Orange St.

Click here to read the People’s Caucus (PC) “Residents Proposed Budget.”

City spokesman Laurence Grotheer dismissed the budget out of hand. He released this statement: “At first glance, it seems those who invented this alternate budget have no regard for sound fiscal management; to eliminate half the finance department would be to dismantle effective oversight of city spending and likewise, elimination of the economic development department would ravage the city’s ability to generate jobs for residents or provide tax relief through an expanded grand list. Moreover, the heartless cuts proposed for New Haven Public Schools would undoubtedly mean teacher layoffs, fewer classroom materials for students, and a diminished educational experience for New Haven children citywide.”

Early Saturday morning, schools Superintendent Garth Harries released this statement:
“The tens of millions of dollars of defunding proposed by the Peoples Caucus is simply irresponsible. They would require devastating cuts in services, staff and programs, relegating our students to factory schools with large classes and minimal supports, and cutting adults off from the opportunity to return to school and work. We look forward to more constructive discussions with the City and Alders about our proposed budget and how we can continue to invest smartly in our kids’ futures.”

The PC proposal is not a stand-alone budget; it’s a critique and list of modifications to Harp’s proposal. Read on for a few highlights:

Books? Last Century.

The PC proposal calls for massive cuts in nearly every department.

The PC proposes to cut library funding by $583,000, compared to Harp’s budget. That includes cuts to private security and maintenance contracts, and to “preservation of periodicals,” and information technology.

New Haven cops and public works can guard and maintain the libraries, said Alder Michael Stratton, the People’s Caucus member who spearheaded the budget drafting.

In the digital age, the library shouldn’t be spending money on preserving books, Stratton said. “This is an online world we’re living in.”

Preserving books can be left to Yale’s Beinecke and Sterling libraries, Stratton said. Those institutions have staff who “pay attention to books in an anal-retentive awesome way,” he said; the city doesn’t need to do it, too.

Just Like Lowell

The PC would slash the finance department in half, to get it down to the size of the finance department in Lowell, Mass. Lowell, which has a population of 109,000, is one of two cities that the PC proposal refers to frequently. Stratton said Lowell and Irving, Texas, have won awards for their municipal budgets.

Stratton said New Haven’s Finance Department is far overstaffed. The Finance Department also doesn’t need fully staffed sub-departments under the auditor, the treasurer and the controller, Stratton said.

The IT department within the Finance Department needs to be entirely eliminated, Stratton said.

“It’s a complete waste of money. The people sitting in that office haven’t updated anything,” Stratton said. The city is using long outdated software, he said. “These people, they don’t have it. Get rid of them.”

Stratton said he’d replace the IT department with a “Chief Information Officer.”

City Controller Daryl Jones told the Finance Committee last week that the IT department needs a big investment of money to bring it up to date. The mayor’s proposed budget calls for a $1.6 million investment in IT.

No More Adult Ed

By far, the biggest cuts in the PC budget would be in education. The budget calls for the school board to make $40 million in cuts to its $397 million overall budget, which is mostly funded by state money.

Stratton has said that the city can make more cuts by ceasing payment for Board of Ed health care costs, which are not currently separated out in the city budget.

The Board of Alders does not have line-item control over the Board of Ed’s operating budget; it can just be voted up or down to approve or deny it as a whole. The PC budget nevertheless includes a list of ways to dramatically cut the budget.

Among other things, Stratton would get rid of adult education programs. “Those services are available through Gateway [Community College] and other community colleges,” the PC proposal states.

“We’re enabling people who drop out,” Stratton said. “It’s not the core of our program.”

The adult education program offers English-as-a-foreign-language classes, GED classes, and other high-school equivalency programs, all of which New Haven is required to offer for free to New Haven residents according to state law, according to adult education staff.

The PC proposal also calls for the Board of Ed to cut administrators by a third. Stratton said administrator salaries account for millions of dollars, money that’s going toward people who don’t work inside classrooms. He said the Board of Ed could save $7 million by cutting one-third of administrative staff, including assistant principals and department heads.

“As People Did In The Depression”

With all the cuts, the PC budget states that the city would have a surplus. That money would go toward paying down debt, reducing taxes by 5 percent, and a number of new initiatives.

That includes the creation of a Works Progress Administration-type jobs program, like the federal government created in the Great Depression.

“A big issue, we’re finding, is jobs,” said Stratton. People need to get back into the workforce. “They need to get back into the rhythm of work.”

The WPA program would hire about 200 people, probably through parks or public works, Stratton said. “We’d get them doing the same sorts of things as people did in the Depression.” They’d clean parks, pick up trash, maybe paint murals.

They wouldn’t be hired permanently. At the end of a year, they’d get help to get a “private sector” job.

The city would have to find a way to keep the workers off the city payroll, “because we don’t want them on the health insurance and pension plans,” Stratton said. The city wouldn’t want to get roped into paying long-term health care and pensions for the temporary WPA workers, he argued.

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posted by: cupojoe on March 28, 2014  7:11pm

Cut library funding? Doesn’t the library get like .75 parts of a penny on the dollar right now?

Talk about squeezing blood out of a turnip.

p.s. Alder Stratton, though I admire your zeal, someone needs to clue you in to a little nasty thing called the digital divide.

Oh, though if the Beinecke is willing to care for the homeless during the day…

posted by: TheMadcap on March 28, 2014  7:11pm

A “People’s” caucus should not be voting to cut library funding especially when, to quote DataHaven

“One way to measure the wellbeing of a community is to evaluate the strength of its cultural assets, including organizations, schools, libraries, theaters, and parks. The presence of “pro-social places” leads to greater participation in community activities, which can impact neighborhood outcomes such as public safety, community empowerment, physical health, and pride in one’s community.

In 2010, Connecticut had the third-highest per capita rate of library visitation in the United States. Library visits and circulation per capita in Greater New Haven have increased modestly between 2000 and 2012, with most of this increase driven by dramatically higher circulation at and visits to the New Haven Free Public Library.””

posted by: Dwightstreeter on March 28, 2014  7:13pm

No doubt others will sign on to comment on various proposed changes. I’ll leave them to do that. I appreciate that proposed cuts are explained and alternatives offered, even if they are not all acceptable.

Stratton must know by now that PILOT is not going to be increased sufficiently to either comply with the law or to solve New Haven’s budget problems.

So why is he not talking tax reform, not just re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic?

I’m still waiting for the small child in the crowd to call out that the Emperor has no clothes.

If not Stratton, who?

posted by: wendy1 on March 28, 2014  7:18pm

I like Brendan Sharkey’s plan better.  But I’m going to the meeting Sat.  One way or another the rich are going to have to start paying their share FINALLY.  TAX YALE OR TAX YOU.

posted by: win win on March 28, 2014  10:57pm

So the Stratton Caucus wants to cut cut cut its way to ...massive public investment!?? Almost as ironic as when they formed by stabbing their colleagues in the back, breaking up consensus around a good jobs/safe streets/youth opportunity agenda OF THE PEOPLE, and forming a FACTION in order to…“overcome factionalism”!??  Huh?

posted by: mstratton on March 28, 2014  11:28pm

I like Tom but he makes this very well thought out alternative budget like a sadistic attack on children and literacy. Please look at the actual budget and see what is really being proposed. First, on education, the state does not pay most of the bill. The city now pays upward of 130m or more towards education. None info us knew this because 100m was given without any authority, vote or disclosure.  This means almost 40% of our city budget is heading to education. This impoverishes the city’s ability to do many important things. What ton didn’t say is the budget lays out 40m in cuts that do not touch any part of early childhood Ed through grade 12. Not one school is closed other than the incredibly expensive adult Ed center. This is a 5.5m a year cost with just a few benefitting. Jason Bartlett called it a warehouse for dropouts and that it encouraged dropouts. The other cuts are 6.5 m contingency fund. This is a surplus, the elimination of just 1/3 of central office folks. These people make 200k plus in salary and benefits. And the elimination of just 15 vice principals. Wilbur cross has 6-7 alone. We also call for saving 6m on 40m in items marked “contract other” with no back up.  And we also ask that the full grant from the Feds for incentives not used for training go to pay for the teacher contract. That’s 8 m and should have been done but wasn’t. So that’s 40m. What child suffers here? And what do we do with this: 10m to create a city wide sport, music and set program. Something boe has not done and we can’t make them. 5m to have community policing throughout city in every ward. 2-3m to get people working in wpa style.  6m for each ward to do 200k capital improvement. 2m for summer jobs and camps for all teens. 2m for city wide neighborhood festivals and music to celebrate our diversity. And yes then maybe a small tax cut.  So call us inhumane but truth is status quo is eating this city alive and it hates any threat to its continued oppressive existence.

posted by: mstratton on March 28, 2014  11:33pm

On the library they have asked for $350k to rebind periodicals.  Now I love books but we can’t afford to send more than 200 kids to summer camp. Our library system is very well funded 4.5m   Taking a small piece of they so we can have community policing and a full scale rec program is not cruel it’s setting priorities and being honest. The city library system is not a rare book collection it is meant for everyday use. This use is mostly online, children’s books, and pop fiction.  We can use sterling or beineke for preservation. New haven library is about community programs and usage. It made sense to us but if consensus is book binding beats safe streets, then god bless you all.

posted by: Bill Saunders on March 29, 2014  12:05am

In terms of increasing PILOT Payments, someone should make this deal with THE STATE:

For every dollar we reduce the State’s burden for New Haven’s bloated education budget, the State will reimburse NH .75 cents in increased PILOT Funds.

posted by: The Realist on March 29, 2014  8:21am

Mike is correct.  The current system of governing New Haven is broken, bloated and misdirected.  It is time to update the city, cut out the fat (1/3rd of the educational admin), and redirect the city to a more modern and realistic heading. 

Unfortunately, in order to do this, there are a number of people who currently benefit from this system are going to lose out.  The assistant principal who comes to work 3 days a week for a six-figure salary… (you know who you are)... sorry!  The city is not going to subsidize that lifestyle anymore.  Jobs that are not really needed in this day and age (preserving books??  Mike is absolutely right on this - preserving books should not be in the purview of a modern municipality) need to be eliminated. 

When auto manufacturing took off at the turn of the century, buggy whip makers were laid off.  It was a real hardship to those buggy whip makers and their families, but the march of modernity and lack of need for their services made it all but inevitable.  The same applies to the city.

For New Haven to grow and thrive in the decades to come, it needs new direction, new vision and an overhaul.  We cannot afford to allow the old corrupt, entrenched interests to hijack this transformation.  Mike Stratton and the Peoples Caucus represent this new vision.  For the good of our future, our kids future and the future of New Haven, we need to support Mike and the Peoples Caucus.

posted by: Callisto on March 29, 2014  8:39am

Slash half a mil from libraries, hammer the education budget, target teacher health care, “consolidate” schools. “People’s Caucus”? Who are these people?? Charter school corporatists?? Who is most affected by these fiscal ideas? I’m starting to see a pattern here, one that will send the dwindling number of great teachers running for the suburbs. And so it goes…. Why no financial spleen-venting at other public sectors? How much police overtime is paid by us to chauffeur the mayor around? The NHBOE needs trimming - most agree - but the withering assault on teachers who are on the front lines everyday (who educate the most and get paid the least) must end. Funny how the People’s Caucus is mute on the issue of what the wealthy should fairly pay. All their “fiscal accountability” cuts seem aimed at middle class and poorer folks. Maybe “Rich People’s Caucus” is more apt.

posted by: HewNaven on March 29, 2014  8:54am

Really? Cut half a million from the library system? This is what the People’s Caucus stands for?

Is this an Onion article?

posted by: LookOut on March 29, 2014  9:20am

Bravo People’s Caucus.  I’ve been waiting 14 years for someone to challenge the status quo in this city.

There are some cuts listed with which I agree and some that I don’t but let’s have a dialog here.  Why should the mayor always get 99% of what is proposed?  Who says that its good for this budget just because it existed in the last budget? 

It is very telling that the city spokesman “dismissed the budget out of hand”

Let’s get to work on this.  Crying about wanting more money from Yale, or Hartford, or Washington is a waste of time.  At $511 Million a year ($10 Million a week!), we have a spending problem, not a revenue problem.

posted by: The Professor on March 29, 2014  11:30am

This is the People’s Caucus(“PC”)budget?Attacks upon services used the most by the majority of New Haven residents - that is to say the library and schools - is not the answer.  In fact that is the agenda of wealthy elites which have access to private schools and plenty of age appropriate books in the home for their own children to read.  This is far from a “People’s Caucus” Agenda.  This reads more like a St. Ronan Street agenda.

I must say I am amazed that some of the Alders in the PC are going along with this.  As I recall many of them in past NHI articles having argued against the cutting of library hours and for such school expenditures as improvements to Bowen Field as two examples.  This budget does not seem reflective of their personal philosophy on government spending. So why the change for them?

In the end it makes little difference as this proposal is nothing more than background opposition noise.  The controlling interests on the Board of Alders will pay little attention to the dissidents when it comes to passage of a City budget.

posted by: Don in New Haven on March 29, 2014  11:43am

Alderman Stratton,

When was the last time anyone searched the Library card files? Why must the library visit neighborhoods which have public transportation to the Library? Is a visit to the Library an excuse for escaping a cold or hot home during winter or summer to save personal utility costs?

Instead of screaming about taxing Yale, we must take advantage of the many assistance programs that Yale offers to the City. Why are we wasting millions building a school next to UNH in West Haven when Yale is all around us?

Keep ONE IT manager and eliminate all other IT personnel then subcontract any IT needs. This is a much cheaper and more responsible approach. I see no benefit that came from our City IT personnel over the past 20 years. This should be sufficient proof to anybody.

Yes, I know about IT. My computer training began with FORTRAN Programming on an IBM 1620 at Ariz St. Univ. in September…of 1962 and continues to the present.

A WPA program would put people to work and reduce crime. However, the focus must be on training people for future work after WPA.

You are on the RIGHT trail. Keep thinking and acting. There is little time left.

In no way can my income ever advance at the same pace as my property taxes.

Property taxes have grown so rapidly over the last decade that mine now exceed 30% of my Adjusted Gross Income.

Based on my estimates, I must begin making plans to leave New Haven during 2018 summer.
My personal adviser, Clint Eastwood, told me, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” 

The same advice applies to the City.

Thank you for your efforts.

Keep up the good work. We are counting on you.

posted by: William Kurtz on March 29, 2014  11:56am

“Preserving books can be left to Yale’s Beinecke and Sterling libraries, Stratton said. Those institutions have staff who “pay attention to books in an anal-retentive awesome way,” he said; the city doesn’t need to do it, too.”</taking Stratton’s proposal seriously>

posted by: HewNaven on March 29, 2014  11:57am

Books? Whatevr. teh google haz wut i need

posted by: beyonddiscussion on March 29, 2014  12:20pm

Adult Ed and the libraries are great and shouldn’t be touched. You can make a case for too many administrators at 54 Meadow and maybe too much overlap in Finance. I like the idea of a Chief Information Officer and major IT revamp. So much can be done with IT and it hasn’t been done and the city is clearly way behind there. But, the state and city needs large scale tax reform. This tax structure is broken beyond repair. On PILOT, the Sharkey Plan is better because it makes Yale and other well-connected wealthy non-profits have to negotiate with the state over their taxes. We won’t see any changes until Yale and those tax exempts with clout are stuck with a bill.

posted by: JohnTulin on March 29, 2014  12:41pm

mstratton - pick and choose wisely, a lot of people support many of these cuts but not all.  Leave the poor libraries alone.  The administrators and dept. heads, that’s a slam dunk.  And you don’t know the half of it…get all 21 Jump St and get in the schools, you won’t believe your eyes.

posted by: Don in New Haven on March 29, 2014  2:25pm

I discussed our City Tax Plight with a friend in San Diego, CA. Here are his comments:

“I’m with you.”

“Books on hand should be preserved. But I see no reason that paper needs to used to print more books today. If the Library of Congress ever gets fully digitized as possible, then it should be accessible to all.”

“I was upset with our local politicians for spending approximately 100 million dollars for our new Central Library.”

“That money should have been used to develop a digitized data bank of books, periodicals and documents then made available to each of the county’s branches.”

“In the meantime, what happened? The new Library became a magnet for the homeless. The wretched smell in the Library is almost unbearable. Does that make San Diego a literate city???”

posted by: HewNaven on March 29, 2014  3:52pm

The city library system is not a rare book collection it is meant for everyday use. This use is mostly online, children’s books, and pop fiction.  We can use sterling or beineke for preservation. New haven library is about community programs and usage.


Now your a librarian?

I admire your confidence, but please ask for a clue about what you’re talking about.

posted by: wendy1 on March 29, 2014  6:07pm

Don in NH, did you go to the PC meeting I just came home from??

If you dont like other humans warming themselves at the library then stand up and DO something about it.  I love the library here and I use it.  You sound like Scrooge.

Are you going to the April 3 open Budget hearing at Career HS?  I dare you. I double dare you.

posted by: Laughingstock on March 29, 2014  6:29pm

I pay very high taxes an live on a pension.  However, lived in the South as a child and I learned that paying taxes for a decent society is an obligation. 

This Caucus reminds me of eavesdropping, year after year, on the local White farmers, chatting over drinks at the house after church.  Always talking about how expensive the nonwhite poor are to the “good people” of our town. Forced to pay for integration, these County Commissioners built schools with no windows, cut all “frills” such as art, music, libraries, athletics, filled in the public swimming pool, and sent their own kids to an academic wasteland Christian academy. 

Now in New Haven, I would call this the Rich People’s Caucus. certainly not a New Haven People’s Caucus. The “tell” is that their suggestions culminate with a property tax cut.  On the contrary, an admirable caucus would focus on improvements in the City of New Haven, a plan to get deserved increases in aid from the state, and a hope we can afford tax cuts afterward.

If the Peoples’ Caucus want to have a community where all their neighbors are like their own number, affluent people who don’t worry if they can feed their kids every day, who buy their own books, and can pay for private education for their kids if things go South with the public schools, perhaps they should consider that they really want a rural life.  They blessed with a state that is segregated by race and class so it should be a cinch.

posted by: getyourfactstraight on March 29, 2014  7:40pm

Even if I do not agree with everything it is time for the SHAKE RATTLE AND ROLL ERA!!!!

posted by: LookOut on March 29, 2014  8:16pm

Come on folks….if you’re going to attack the ideas of the People’s Caucus, at least know what you’re attacking.  They’re NOT canning teachers or reducing library hours.  Their document clearly shows that they are going after the fat cats who cost the city $200k a year and provide very little value. 

Let’s have a real dialogue here.  The taxpayers deserve to at least have a discussion about where their tax money is going.

posted by: mohovs on March 29, 2014  9:56pm

Everyone who is upset about these cuts, please realize the alternative is that your/mine taxes go up 4% if not approved.

Thank you M. Stratton for sticking your neck out there.

posted by: Wikus van de Merwe on March 30, 2014  9:57am

I support the ideas put forwards in this proposal.  I think they are well thought out and sensible.

I do think the PC would be better served if they put together their own releases of this kind of information in the future, crafted in a way to anticipate the kinds of knee-jerk reactions and distortions from opponents that can be seen in the comments section here.  Our local media cannot be relied on to deliver information independent of their own biases.

Mike’s comments (aside from formatting) were great, and exactly the kind of delivery they should shoot for.

posted by: elmgritty on April 1, 2014  9:30pm

The “hidden” money at the BOE and 200 is the PART TIMERS working full time with HUGE hourly rates. 

Equally the “contractors” who get paid more than true employees need to be looked at. 

IT is a division within finance and the SALARIES are astronomically high compared to other jobs.  Look in the budget and see the salaries for yourself. 

Folks GET ONE THING CRYSTAL CLEAR STRAIGHT NOW: The money spend OUTSIDE Union workers is where are the bleeding is.  Leave the Union grinders alone, especially the RESIDENT EMPLOYEES, of which there needs to be some sort of voice or coalition.

Part timers, “contractors” and the amount of people in IT and the super high number of asst. principals is astounding.  Look for yourself.  Remember Asst. Principals do not teach - the only have the power of the pen. Hillhouse and Cross alone add up to some expensive ink.