Municipal leaders spoke against what they called Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s “Plan B” budget Wednesday calling it “ridiculous,” “catastrophic,” and a “scare tactic.” But Malloy’s office said it was never intended as an alternative.
Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch said Malloy’s original budget was the most honest budget he has seen in years but said his contingency plan was a terrible alternative.
Finch told reporters that when he took office the city of Bridgeport was facing a $20 million budget deficit. To address it, he said he had to make difficult choices that haven’t always been popular. The city now has 250 less employees than it did when he took office, he said.
“That needs to happen here [at the state level] but not on our backs because we’re already doing it,” Finch, a former state senator, said.
While it may have frightened municipal leaders, the governor’s office was clear Wednesday afternoon that the estimate of what $1 billion in cuts to municipal aid might look like was not considered an alternative to Malloy’s proposed budget.
According to Colleen Flanagan, a spokeswoman for Malloy, the estimate was generated in response to questions received at almost every one of his town hall meetings. People want to know why Malloy hasn’t balanced Connecticut’s budget like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Malloy’s office released the estimate to answer that question, Flanagan said.
“This reflects what a budget balanced like Governor Cuomo’s would look like in Connecticut. If talks with the unions do not prove fruitful in terms of the $1 billion number, Governor Malloy has been clear that everything – including municipal aid – will be on the table,” she said.
In an effort to avoid cuts to municipal aid, Finch said he’s asking Bridgeport municipal unions to put pressure on their brothers and sisters at the state level to come up with the concessions the governor’s administration is demanding.
“We want the state workers to do the same thing that local workers have done and we think that will go a long way to getting a budget passed. But we need a budget passed quickly,” he said.
If state workers don’t take the same sacrifice as municipal employees, the state has a huge problem, Finch said. Why can’t they pay half or 25 percent of their insurance premiums, he asked.
New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. said he won’t directly be asking his local unions to do the same, but figures they will be able to connect the dots.
“I need to engage them about things that are important to New Haven. They’re smart enough to know the two are connected and hopefully act on that interconnection,” he said.
Like Finch, DeStefano highlighted some of the sacrifices already made in his city. Two months ago he laid off 80 employees, including 16 police officers. He said 60 more people will be laid off this summer.
Larry Dorman, spokesman for AFSCME Council 4 and the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition, said asking one group of workers to work against another is not a strategy that will bare fruit.
“It’s a shame to pit municipal workers against state workers,” he said.
Municipal employees realize that state workers are not the cause of the economic down turn and rather than engage in finger-pointing, they will continue to fight for a real solution, he said, getting the wealthy and corporations to pay their fair share.
The municipal leaders said they had no intention of denouncing any and every budget idea generated at the state level but many said they have already drafted their budgets with Malloy’s original proposal in mind and were now waiting to be able to pass them.
Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra said it was especially important to keep Malloy’s proposed allocations for Education Cost Sharing intact. Education funding makes up 52 percent of Hartford’s budget, he said, adding that he is trying to use education to turn his city around.
“We’re hopeful that those figures stay in place because anything less than when we have will be greatly catastrophic to our city,” he said.
While most of the discussion centered around avoiding changes to the original proposal, some leaders came to ask the governor to reconsider parts of his original plan. Torrington Mayor Ryan Bingham said he hoped Malloy and the legislature would decide not to eliminate the grant manufacturing machinery and equipment for towns and cities. Unable to collect property taxes on the equipment the state had been providing municipalities with some money to offset those revenue losses, however, Malloy proposed eliminating those payments in his original budget proposal.
“To have that on the table as part of Gov. Malloy’s budget, I think, is a poor decision. He’s heard that on many levels in his 17 discussions at town halls,” he said.
Malloy has already conceded that he’s open to changing how the manufacturing machinery and equipment grant is rolled out. He said he doesn’t believe towns should be receiving money from the state for this equipment, but cutting them off with little notice may not have been appropriate.