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Earth To Eddie: Big Tax Hikes Wrong Medicine For Hartford

Hartford Courant

April 23, 2009

Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez needs to go for a walk. He needs to visit some of the large companies and small businesses in the city, and see how desperately and finely they are cutting costs. Then he needs to return to city hall and do the same thing.

Mr. Perez submitted a proposed budget to the city council this week that calls for a 13 percent tax increase for the average single-family city homeowner. The tax increase on some businesses would be higher than 20 percent. Council budget chairman Pedro Segarra said a big increase this year, in a severe economic downturn, "could be devastating."

Indeed, the signs are there. Hartford's unemployment rate, 13.6 percent in March, is the highest of any municipality in the state, according to state figures. Hartford had 111 businesses close in the first quarter of 2009, also the highest of any city or town in what was a record-setting quarter for business closings in the state.

The answer is a big tax hike?

It is hard to believe Mr. Perez is unaware of the plight many residents find themselves in, which gives credence to the suggestion by councilman Matthew Ritter that the mayor is punting the tough choices to the council.

This is not dissimilar to the blame-shifting game played at the Capitol by Democratic legislators and the Republican governor over the state budget, and is equally disappointing. The state's economy is suffering. Officials at both levels cannot proceed as if it's 2004. If they have to seek a tax increase, they need to minimize it by seriously cutting spending.

As has been endlessly pointed out, a crisis is an opportunity for bold action, a chance to reset the machine. But there's been no bold action, especially from Mr. Perez, who has been raising taxes every year for the last five years. In 2002-03, the city's budget was $422.4 million. This year, it is $547.6 million.

Obviously he cannot control the economy, but he can certainly respond to it by reducing costs. Proposed budgets in cities such as New Haven and Stamford have nowhere near the tax increases Mr. Perez proposes. The job of reducing Hartford's costs now goes to the council. There won't be much of a political downside to making major cuts, at least with the taxpayers.

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