HARTFORD, CT — The Senate gave bipartisan support Saturday to legislation that seeks to modify the $534 million bailout they gave the city last year to help it avoid bankruptcy.
The amended bill passed 28-6.
The bill, which heads now to the House, would continue to make Hartford’s debt payments for five years unless Hartford’s budget situation changes dramatically. The bill would allow the state to reduce other municipal aid to Hartford in the sixth year if the city failed to meet its obligations, but it also includes other triggers along the way.
It doesn’t change the debt assistance deal signed by state Treasurer Denise Nappier and the administration that requires the state to pay off the entire principal of Hartford’s bonded debt over the next 20 to 30 years. The state will make about $40 million in annual payments on the debt over the next two or three decades.
Before the budget deal last year the city was considering filing for bankruptcy. The state’s decision to pick up its debt through the Municipal Accountability Review Board has helped the city begin to rebalance its finances, but the city needs more time.
Republican lawmakers felt they should be allowed to lower other municipal aid to the city in order to account for the payments elsewhere in the budget, but the legislation they agreed to Saturday seeks to delay that type of decision for at least five years.
Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, said the legislation makes clear what lawmakers thought they had agreed to last year.
“It does give the city of Hartford … the ability to right itself, provide for stability,” Fonfara said.
The Appropriations and Finance Committee will have the ability to weigh in on the process if they see Hartford isn’t meeting the fiscal metrics laid out in the legislation.
“We all want Hartford to get out of this,” Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said.
He said he may not agree about how Hartford got into this mess, “but that’s irrelevant.”
Fasano applauded Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin for working hard on the situation.
“I think we’re all saying with some changes may be we can slowly turn the ship in the right direction,” Fasano said. “It would be an awful headline the ‘Capital City of the State of Connecticut Goes Bankrupt.’ That would be an awful headline.”
He said there are a series of “trip wires” in the five year deal, which give the Municipal Accountability Review Board the power to say “we don’t believe we can get there.”
Fasano said he would like a two-year deal, but he’ll take the five year deal that’s on the table.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin was in the hallway outside the Senate watching the debate on a television screen.
He said he appreciated the bipartisan support.
“Hartford’s fiscal crisis developed over decades, and it is rooted in the fact that Hartford is a city built on the tax base of a suburb,” Bronin said. “It will take many years of discipline, growth, and continued partnership to achieve sustainable fiscal strength for our Capital City.”
Last week the Municipal Accountability Review Board voted overwhelmingly to approve Hartford’s five year plan for stability.
“Over the next five years, our budgets remain very tough and very tight, and if dramatic reductions were to be fully implemented after five years, it’s unlikely that Hartford would be able to sustain those cuts,” Bronin said. “That said, I fully understand and respect legislators’ desire to revisit the agreement after five years, and my commitment is that we will continue to work hard to earn the confidence of the legislature and the state as a whole as we move our Capital City in the right direction.”
Sen. Tim Larson, D-East Hartford, who was mayor of East Hartford for eight years, said, “We don’t give Hartford enough credit for what it does.”
He said the revenue is just not there to support the city based on Connecticut’s tax structure and the fact that it’s less than 18 square miles and houses a lot of state property, hospitals, and other tax exempt property.
He added that it’s not like Bronin didn’t warn about the problem shortly after he was elected.
Bronin spent time going to surrounding towns trying to win support for the city.