You Call This “Harmless”?
by Staff | Feb 22, 2013 12:31 pm
Posted to: State
“The governor’s proposed budget,” in the words of New Haven’s mayor, “leaves communities like New Haven with more bad choices.”
Mayor John DeStefano has been saying that, and more, about Dannel P. Malloy’s new two-year budget proposal for more than a week now, joining other Connecticut mayors in breaking publicly with a governor who until now had been their ally.
DeStefano made that pitch again Thursday in testimony before the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee, chaired by two people with sympathetic ears: New Haven state Sen. Toni Harp and state Rep. Toni Walker.
Here’s what DeStefano said to the committee Thursday:
Thank you for opportunity to comment on the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) Budget and categorical municipal grants.
I sympathize with the difficult decisions this committee has before it. In New Haven we are accustomed to making those tough decisions. In the past five years we have made many difficult decisions. We have had to lay off cops, librarians, recreation supervisors and school custodians. Our employees have gone without cost of living pay raises. And our property tax payers are paying more. With all this bad news there has been good news – in the past two years we have successfully negotiated union contracts that have fair benefits that match the private sector and have stabilized pension and health care costs – and have the potential to be less as more contracts are settled. We have also grown jobs and the grand list – next year we will see almost 1% growth in the net taxable grand list.
I come before you today because the Governor’s proposed budget leaves communities like New Haven with more bad choices. Let’s be clear – the governor’s proposed budget does not hold municipalities harmless. The proposed budget reflects a cut in general operating municipal aid - cuts to PEQUOT, the Municipal Revenue Sharing Account and a variety of other programs– over $10 million of general fund reductions for New Haven. What does this mean. This would be over a 2 mill or 5% tax increase or would result in over 200 position eliminations. This could mean less police and fire fighters, fewer libraries and youth programs – and after last week’s snow nobody will want to hear this – but it could mean cuts to the public works department which is already half the size it was ten years ago.
The governor talks about the elimination of the car tax because the tax is regressive. I argue that cuts to municipal aid are far more regressive. Cuts to state aid will ultimately lead to property tax increases – disproportionally in communities like New Haven where property taxes are far too high already.
Over the next several weeks this committee will have many difficult decisions to make. I respect the work that you do and ask that you remember that the proposed changes to municipal aid will result in the loss of general fund operating support and result in either cuts to services or property tax increases.
Thank you for your time.
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With all due respect to Mayor DeStefano, you have built a city completely dependent on state government and an annual dependency payment from every taxpayer in the state. New Haven dominates the PILOT program taking more than 35%; dominates the Pequot Fund taking the same percentage; has milked the state for new school debt for more than a billion dollars while constructing a labyrinth of buildings that are expensive to maintain; have many single use facilities and while much larger, actually accommodate the same or smaller numbers of kids. Nearly half the city budget comes from the state and feds.
Meanwhile, the city employs some 5,000 people and most of the suburban living union members and their contracts have been rich by private sector standards even as you haven’t budgeted enough money to make good on the pension and health promises contained therein.
You were warned repeatedly over most of the last decade; begged even for tax relief, for spending cuts, to curtail school construction or to build more moderately priced schools vs. the $50 million versions that have become the new normal; institute a hiring freeze; review city programs for efficacy and efficiencies; end longevity bonuses and more; to curtail bonding and debt even as the increased levels ate away our free cash to the point, you had to decimate the city’s savings account.
The city is currently looking at a multi-million dollar deficit this year, and that’s before any state cuts.
The state promised a hold harmless clause in the last budget - a clause that cost all taxpayers almost $3 billion in new taxes and fees. People in New Haven shared the pain. There was no hold harmless promise this year and for good reason. All it did the last time, was take more money from our pockets and allow the excesses of local government to continue.
The governor picked our pockets the last time. Before you do it this time as if we are human ATMS, I strongly suggest you do what you have been asked, begged and pleaded to do in the past - make smart, tough cuts - the kind you make when you have nothing to lose, no more elections to win and no more votes to buy. In short, make the kind of cuts a real leader would have made years ago.
Maybe Mayor DeStefano wants the state to pay retiring Superintendent Mayo’s $170,000 per year pension?
Or maybe the mayor can foot the bill himself?
I sure don’t want to pay more for 2 decades of failure.