A coalition of local elected officials from Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford, and Stamford, visited the Capitol Wednesday to tell lawmakers that Connecticut cities are the economic, medical, and cultural centers of the state.
As such the newly formed coalition feels the state should adequately fund its grants to all the cities and give them options to raise revenues through local option sales and hotel taxes.
From homelessness to unemployment, “we’re the ones who deliver the services,” Bridgeport City Council President Thomas McCarthy said. He said the cities don’t mind providing the services, but they should be fairly compensated for it.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell has proposed level-funding of most grants to cities and towns, however because state surplus money was used to increase some of the grants last year, cities and towns will see a reduction in at least three of the state grant programs.
McCarthy said Bridgeport is already dealing with a $20 million budget deficit and the reduction in state grant money just adds another $2.5 million to its deficit. “And that my friends is an impossibility,” he said.
“If you take away from us we are not able to handle it at this point,” McCarthy said. “The water is rising and what we don’t want you to do up here in Hartford is we don’t want you to add to the pool of water.”
David Martin, president of the Stamford Board of Representatives, said people often ask “What are you doing with those guys?”
“We’re all the major urban centers for our particular areas,” Martin said. “We all know the urban centers are the economic hubs of the state.”
“We need both a short-term solution recognizing the needs of the urban centers, as well as a structural change to bring some more balance in the way we fund our urban centers,” Martin said.
Also a concern for the coalition is how the state will dole out the federal stimulus package. “If that stimulus bill is going to be effective it needs to get to the places where it’s going to create jobs, where the hurt from the economic crisis is greatest and it needs to be done immediately,” Martin said. He said the money needs to get to the major urban centers and it needs to get there quickly.
Carl Goldfield, president of the New Haven Board of Alderman, said he would like to see the state send the stimulus money to the cities in a discretionary fashion instead of dictating to cities what they would like to see done with it.
Unable to say how the stimulus money will be doled out, Hartford Council President Calixto Torres, said “we don’t want to lose sight of the fundamental reasons why we’re here.”
“What we’re saying here is that we have some fundamental structural problems with the way business is done in Connecticut, period,” Torres said. “For too long municipalities are being short changed as urban areas that provide very important services to the rest of the state.”
“When you’re sick and you need medical care you come to the hospitals in our municipalities. When you’re homeless and you have no place to go you gravitate to the urban areas,” Torres said.
“We need to make sure the rest of the state understands, and redefines the role of the urban area as places that are critical to the economic development and the well-being of the state,” Torres said.
Goldfield said fundamentally what’s broken is the property tax system, which is not enough to support the cities.
Goldfield said the coalition is in agreement that a wide variety of revenue options should be given to municipalities. He said a local sales tax and hotel tax are some of the options it would like to see the state consider.