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Budget Smackdown

By Jeffrey B. Cohen

May 29, 2009

The council has two days left to pass a budget, and the rhetoric is getting nastier.

In a press release, Mayor Eddie A. Perez and his spokeswoman Sarah Barr singled out three of the potential no votes on the council -- Larry Deutsch, Ken Kennedy and Matt Ritter -- and said the council was "paralyzed by politics. Asking residents to call the city council, Perez said that "it is an abdication of responsibility for the city council not to pass a budget."

He then let Barr call folks out by name.

"It is unfortunate that Councilmen Ritter, Kennedy and Deutsch are leading the charge to block passage of the budget and force the implementation of a 16-mill increase in property taxes," Perez Barr said. "This is something our residents and business can't afford and it's the wrong kind of leadership for our city,"

Last night, the city council decided to postpone action on a budget until Sunday. As it stands now, the council has before it an $535,768,191 budget with a 5.44 mill increase.

As the council adjourned Thursday, five of the council's members appeared to be leaning against the budget. If those votes hold, the budget would not pass. Some are trying to stick with an increase of no more than 3 mills. But if the budget doesn't pass, Perez has threatened that taxpayers will, because of the city's charter, face a 16-mill increase

But this morning, before the mayor's press release was issued, Ritter continued as he had the night before, taking aim at the mayor's numbers, which he calls false.

"We're not going to be bullied into a corner that we don't think is really true," Ritter said, arguing that if the mayor could propose a $547.6 million budget for next year -- assuming all of the city's contractual obligations -- and only have an 8.89 mill increase, then a 16-mill increase is political strategy.

"It would be the most irresponsible governmental act probably in the history of the state of Connecticut for tax purposes," Ritter said. "You didn't vote for my budget, so I'm going to punish the taxpayers. It makes no sense."

Ritter said, if need be, he would try to get the state legislature involved to pass a law capping the city's mill rate increase.

Asked to respond to Ritter's remarks, Barr called him "a first-term city councilman" who "is not a leader in the state legislature" and who "wants it both ways."

Kennedy was working on a press release himself when reached today.

"The mayor is behaving very childishly, he's singling people out," Kennedy said, noting that he didn't single out to other potential no votes - Councilmen Pedro Segarra and Luis Cotto.

"He's left all the dirty work to us. We've done the dirty work, and he blames us for not passing a budget," Kennedy said. "Eddie has raised taxes 54 percent since he's been mayor and there comes a point in time where it's no longer responsible nor prudent for the future of the city to keep" doing it.

Deutsch said the mayor and his press release are "full of lies" and then stepped things up a notch.

"I call for the resignation of [the mayor],[Chief of Staff] Matt Hennessy, and Sarah Barr. You can print it," he said. "The specific objection in this case is he willfully withheld information from the public and city council at the time of these budget deliberations."







(May 29, 2009)--- Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez urges residents and taxpayers to call the Hartford City Council (757-9560) today and tell them to pass a city budget for Fiscal Year 2009-2010. Failure to pass the budget by Sunday at midnight will result in an automatic mil rate increase of approximately sixteen mils. The proposed budget awaiting a vote by the Council would increase the mil rate by a much smaller 5.44 mils.

If the Council fails to pass a budget by May 31st, the City Charter automatically reinstates all the positions and expenses in previous year's budget and then adds wage increases and all other contractual increases. To pay for the increases and revenue reductions, the Council would need to increase the mil rate by approximately 16 mils--- the largest increase in city history.

The City Council recessed on Thursday night without taking any action on the budget. Councilmen Ritter, Kennedy and Deutsch publicly stated that they would not support adoption of the budget even though the council has been working on it for six weeks, and they had voted for a number of provisions in the budget.

"No one can recall a time when the Hartford City Council has failed to do its duty and adopt a City budget. In this time of economic uncertainty, it is an abdication of responsibility for the City Council not to pass a budget. Though the Council is paralyzed by politics, it is time for at least five members to step forward and act responsibly. Our residents and taxpayers need the Council to do their job. Our residents should call the council and let them know they need to act," Mayor Perez stated.

"It is unfortunate that Councilmen Ritter, Kennedy and Deutsch are leading the charge to block passage of the budget and force the implementation of a 16 mil increase in property taxes. This is something our residents and business can't afford and it's the wrong kind of leadership for our city," Sarah Barr, Director of Communications stated.


Press Release of Councilman Kenneth H. Kennedy, Jr.

It is disappointing to see Mayor Eddie Perez's latest press release blaming members of the City Council for the failure to reach a compromise and pass the budget. The budget process began with the Mayor asking parties to set aside their difference but instead of leading, the Mayor has inappropriately called into question Council members' motives and said certain members are not acting in a responsible manner. This charge is interesting since the Mayor proposed an outrageous 9mill tax increase in mid April of this year. Since that time members of the Council have made it clear, even those members who consider themselves allies of the Mayor that it did not want a tax increase over 3 mills preferring no tax increase at all. The Mayor then left the "dirty" work and the responsibility to reduce the budget to acceptable levels to the Council.

During the start of the budget process the Mayor has stubbornly and unreasonably refused to discuss the elimination or consolidation of any City department or function. Additionally, he refused to discuss a reduction in salary or elimination of position, beyond 4 furlough days, of those City employees making over $100,000.00. I believe the City of Hartford has more six-figure salary employees than any other municipality in the State (see the City's two deputy finance directors as an example). The Mayor has even refused to discuss a reduction of his own bloated staff of 24 people, the largest staff of any Mayor in the State of Connecticut and maybe even more than the Governor. It is clearly ridiculous that in the toughest economic times in seventy years, the Mayor want even consider a reduction of his own over bloated staff or the highest paid employees of the City.

In short, the Mayor needs to stop trying to bully and intimidate members of the Council. He just needs to sit down with all members of the Council to find a way to reduce the mill rate to an acceptable level. The Mayor has raised the mill rate 54% since he took office (including this year) and our residents as well as our businesses cannot afford to pay any more taxes in this economy. The City revenues are declining despite last year's tax increase and that trend will only continue until we get the City's financial house in order. I am ready to sit down with the Mayor and discuss ways to reach a reasonable solution as any mayor or elected official is obligated to do, as this is our charge.

Reprinted with permission of the CityLine blog of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the CityLine at http://blogs.courant.com/cityline/ and the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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