Mayors and elected officials from big cities and small towns gathered at the state Capitol Wednesday to demand a half-hour audience with state budget negotiators.
With a week left in the legislative session, municipal officials are concerned about the pace of those negotiations when many cities and towns across the state have passed local budgets and are getting ready to send out tax bills. Local officials are hoping the state keeps its promise and flat funds both municipal and education aid to cities and towns. However, there’s few signs that Gov. M. Jodi Rell and legislative leaders will reach a compromise before June 3.
East Hartford Mayor Melody Currey said local cities and towns need answers. “We cannot continue to do business without the state having a budget in place.”
“We need answers,” Currey said. “We’ve already been beaten up enough about this – we need a budget.”
She said East Hartford, which already approved its local budget, is sending its tax bills to the printer, not knowing what municipal and education aid the state plans on ultimately giving the town.
“We still have no clue what state aid to municipalities will be,” New Haven Mayor John DeStefano said. New Haven’s Board of Alderman approved its budget Tuesday, but there’s no way to know if it’s balanced without a state budget in place.
“Nobody will commit to hard budget numbers,” Mansfield Mayor Betsy Paterson said Wednesday. She said the mayors have not received an answer from the state’s legislative leaders and Rell about whether they would be willing to meet with the mayors of one small, mid-size, and large city for one half-hour.
Rep. Cameron Staples, D-New Haven, said he’d be happy to meet with the mayors and hear their concerns.
Staples, who is co-chairman of the Finance Committee and is part of the budget negotiations, said “we’re very concerned about municipal aid and education aid, but it’s still up in the air.”
Rep. John Geragosian, D-New Britain, said he too has always been happy to meet with municipal leaders.
As for budget negotiations “we’re plugging away,” Geragosian said playing his cards close to his chest. “We’re going through the budget line-by-line,” he said.
He said he can’t say with any certainty that municipal funding would be spared because he doesn’t know where the other side stands.
Rell’s spokesman said Wednesday that she has not hinted at cutting municipal aid.
However, on Tuesday Rell talked to WTIC talk show host Ray Dunaway about the budget and the progress of negotiations.
“I tried very hard to maintain, let’s say municipal aid,” Rell told Dunaway Tuesday. “So that we’re not going to cut municipal aid. Well you know now that the budget numbers have gotten worse, do we go back and say we’re going to have to look at this again,” Rell said. “Of course, you’re not going to eliminate it, but can we make cuts there.”
Rell explained that she prefers cuts to tax increases, but some have predicted that coming up with $2 to $3 billion in cuts will be unpleasant for many lawmakers.
Municipal leaders said they understand the request is unorthodox, but they argued its necessary in these unprecedented times.