“Shell game” and “dishonest” were the words a bipartisan group of mayors and first selectmen used Friday to described Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget proposal, which they said shifts how the state funds municipalities.
Malloy’s budget shifts municipal funding to cover the state’s education obligation and changes another funding stream into a capital program. The move allows Malloy to boost education funding and allows him to argue he’s giving municipalities $45 million more than he did last year. But local leaders say the new spending comes with so many strings attached that it does the exact opposite of what the governor says it does.
Setting aside the elimination of the car tax, the changes will cause New Haven to lose $13.8 million, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, said at a Capitol press conference.
“Maybe it’s fair to ask cities and towns, and more importantly the families that live in them to do with less, but then let’s just be honest about it,” DeStefano said.
Malloy argues that he held cities and towns harmless in this budget and even gave them $45 million more than he did last year. He also brags that it’s more than any other governor has done during this economic recession.
But DeStefano said he’d rather hear Malloy say he was cutting cities and towns like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo did.
“Let’s be honest about what’s happening here,” DeStefano said as Malloy’s Chief of Staff Mark Ojakian stood at the back of the room with his arms crossed and watched.
He said Malloy’s budget is a net revenue loss to his city. The result of which will inevitably be an increase in the property tax and municipal layoffs.
DeStefano said this past year he laid off custodians and the year before that he laid off police officers. Beyond that the city has made some hard choices in its bargaining unit agreements to the point where firefighters were lobbying the policemen not to accept their recent contract.
“We understand about tough budgets and so do our taxpayers,” DeStefano said.
Malloy’s budget, according to DeStefano, forces the city to spend money on equipment or infrastructure and not spend the money on keeping one of the most regressive taxes in the state down.
He said they all understand the state has a problem with the spending cap, which is why it made some of the municipal funding changes. But Malloy is already looking to redefine the spending cap. Asked if those revisions should be made to keep municipal funding level, DeStefano threw up his arms and shrugged.
Now that the budget is with the legislature that’s where municipal officials plan to go with their complaints about Malloy’s proposal.
Asked about their relationship with Malloy, the mayors said they had nothing personal against him and their complaints had nothing to do with personalities. Malloy used to be the president of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities which sponsored the press conference when he was mayor of Stamford.
“I honestly believe that if Governor Malloy were still Mayor Malloy from Stamford he would be standing here with us today,” Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia said.
So if a budget document is a statement about the state’s priorities then what does this budget document say about the direction of the state?
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton said reading the budget would lead you to believe it’s about economic development and education, but in this case “ black is white, white is black. You’re looking through the looking glass.”
“Nothing is as it seems,” Boughton said.
“The better play, the better agenda, is to go out and to say ‘We have a problem here in the state of Connecticut. We haven’t made the necessary changes we thought we made, they just haven’t panned out,” Boughton said.
He said the governor should admit he didn’t get all the savings he needed from the contract he negotiated in 2011 with state employees.
But Malloy seems to believe towns need to be more efficient and tighten their own budgets.
“We are at the bone,” Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary said.
He said police and fire positions were cut and the public works department was cut 40 percent since 2006, the year the state relinquished control of the Brass City.
“We have nowhere to cut except to lay off,” O’Leary, a Democrat, said. “This is what it’s going to boil down to: raise taxes and lay people off.”
At a press conference Thursday, Malloy denied allegations that his budget broke campaign promises or that he engaged in the gimmicks cited by municipal leaders and Republicans.
“I’ve had to make some really tough decisions as governor in the prior budget and in this biennium budget. They’re going to have to make some tough decisions. This process will work itself out,” Malloy said.
Malloy pushed back assertions his budget employed the same types of gimmicks he criticized as a candidate for governor.
“I think [the budget] is very much in keeping with those promises. I want to be very clear — a lot of hard choices had to be made in this budget and we made them,” he said. “. . . We set our priorities, we fund our priorities, and to compare this budget in any way to the budgets that came out of my predecessors is, quite frankly, to ignore reality.”
Asked if he thought the budget employed “gimmicks” or “shell games” as Republicans and municipal leaders have alleged, Malloy said they were wrong and it didn’t. He said that while the budget uses borrowing for investment purposes, the borrowing doesn’t extend into the second year of the budget.
Malloy will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. to address these issues in detail.