Christine Stuart photo
New Haven Mayor Toni Harp with Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim and Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary (Christine Stuart photo)

Mayors from three of Connecticut’s largest cities traveled Friday to the Legislative Office Building in Hartford to ask lawmakers not to reverse the property tax relief approved last year.

Last year, the General Assembly used a half percent of the sales tax to lower the mill rate on motor vehicles in 32 communities, set aside an additional $46 million to change the funding formula for tax exempt properties, and allocated $109 million to a grant program for municipalities.

New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary, and Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim said they’ve all included the property tax relief in their budget proposals.

“We know very well that falling state revenue figures have put more strain on the state budgeting process,” Harp, who previously chaired the legislature’s Appropriations Committee, said. “Cutting municipal aid programs simply shifts the burden to city residents who already bear a heavy property tax load.”

All three mayors said they are concerned that lawmakers will look to raid the revenue going into the Municipal Revenue Sharing Account.

House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said she tells communities they shouldn’t count on the money.

“Because I don’t know how that money is going to come through,” Klarides said earlier this week.

She said they want to help their communities and give them property tax relief, but “it’s not realistic and it never was from the beginning.”

However, Democratic legislative leaders have been calling their property tax relief efforts “historic” for the past year. That being said, the legislature’s Democratic majority also used some of those funds to balance the budget in December when faced with a deficit.

The state is facing another $220 million deficit this fiscal year and a $900 million deficit in fiscal year 2017.

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said earlier this week that giving this money to towns is a promise the state can’t afford.

“This is a promise that will be very hard for the state to keep given the fiscal nightmares that are coming down the pike,” Fasano said.

Harp said that’s why the mayors came to Hartford Friday to let lawmakers know they are depending on this money.

“We’re here to let the legislators know that in fact we’ve already counted on that money,” Harp said. “And for some of us that money is not even enough.”

O’Leary said the state’s cities are in a “state of crisis.” And the property tax relief passed last year by state lawmakers gave them the relief they need.

He argued like Harp that the cities provide the hospitals, train stations, and other regional amenities to their suburban neighbors. The argument is that suburban residents don’t have to pay for the infrastructure they use in the cities.

Harp said half of the people who work in New Haven every day don’t live in the city.

“They drive on our roads, they use our infrastructure, and they have no responsibility for that and there’s no mechanism in place to allow responsibility for that,” Harp said.

Ganim said they are trying to “hold their own” under difficult circumstances at the same time as the state is facing its own fiscal problems.

“We can’t allow retreat,” Ganim said.

Ganim estimated the budget deficit he’s facing could be as much as $30 million out of a total budget of about $550 million.

Harp said she presented a balanced budget to the Board of Alders, but they can’t afford a cut. She said if they have to cut the budget it will mean New Haven will have to cut services or raise taxes.

Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, said the state has a budget crisis, but it’s important for them not to neglect “a major hub for the state’s survival.”

She said they are still listening to everyone’s suggestions and taking them into consideration as they finalize a budget for fiscal year 2017.