Now that they’ve seen the Democratic majority’s budget proposal, which reduces municipal aid by $49 million over the biennium, local elected officials were back at the Capitol Wednesday asking legislators to maintain at the very least flat-funding for cities and towns.
Many of the officials, like East Hartford Mayor Melody Currey, said she’s already cut more than $8 million out of her town’s budget and she can’t afford for the state to withhold anymore. She said in this economy she cannot ask citizens to contribute more by paying higher property taxes, and she can’t ask the labor unions to give anymore than they already have.
“State aid cuts make a bad situation worse,” New Haven Mayor John DeStefano said. He said he even had to close a senior center in a re-election year.
New Britain Mayor Timothy Stewart said bluntly that he doesn’t have the “luxury” of raising property taxes in a re-election year.
DeStefano said the state continues to cut local municipal aid year, after year leaving cities and towns without many options.
“We need a little sanity in this discussion,” he concluded. “Increasing property taxes will pour gasoline on a fire.” He suggested again that the state look at a local option sales tax.
He said a local option sales tax of one percent would bring in $550 to $600 million.
Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy agreed. He said local tax options would provide municipal leaders with new tools and could help them begin to address some of these revenue problems. He said the increase in property taxes is directly tied to the decline in the state’s municipal funding.
But Malloy also acknowledged there’s a budget process where the governor comes up with a budget proposal, the Democrats then offer one of their own, and negotiations begin.
“It’s all part of the dance in Hartford,” Malloy said.
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities survey released Wednesday showed that of 121 communities responding to the survey, 71 percent said they will have to raise property taxes under the budget proposed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, a former state senator, now knows both parts of that dance.
“We are not sustainable without massive infusion of state money,” Finch said. At the moment Finch said he’s faced with having to cut another $2.7 million from his budget.
He said that means he has to chose between laying off 39 cops, 43 fire fighters, closing all recreation programs, closing all senior centers, and closing all after school programs.
“I never had those choices to make up here,” Finch said referring to his job as a state senator. When asked if he thought it would be as hard as it is to be a mayor, Finch admitted, “I didn’t.” The room of more than a hundred local municipal and school leaders burst into applause.