In the mayor's update (fall/winter 2008-2009), he says "there is hope in these difficult times ... and... I am bringing everyone to the table to overcome the financial challenges that face us." It will be a crowded table. Word from his office is that such a course will prevail, and that this following discussion is premature.
However, whatever the mayor's office thinks, we are of the opinion that the coming crisis is so severe that the time for serious thought is now.
First, credible sources tell us that the council has five votes against any tax increase. With possible higher federal taxes, increased fees and taxes probable from the state, and lower returns from ruined investments, those five council persons may have a point. A major tax increase in Hartford may just be the brick that breaks the plate glass window.
Second, we hear a big, even double digit, mill increase is in the offing, on top of the 20% phase-in for businesses. Why would any business invest - or stay - in Hartford? Who would be foolish enough to buy a new car when taxes equal car payments?
Third, three factors - any one of them actually - could throw the whole mess into a cocked hat. The unions could cop out, one already has. The millions expected in givebacks are the main part of the puzzle needed to even come close to squaring things. Then the state legislature, could, and probably will, find it has no money after April 15 (tax deadline) and cuts city and town grants. And, on top of those factors, we see evidence of many people leaving the city or just refusing to pay their taxes. Again, any one or more of these problems could leave the city short of cash very soon.
Now, if five council persons put out their own budget and the mayor makes changes, seven votes are needed for council to prevail. What happens if the council just doesn't pass a budget? Most think we just live with last year's mil rate and level of spending. What a mess that would be, but it might be the only course of action!
A high official remarked "Council should know the outcomes of a budget without any tax increase." A small business owner we know said "Raise taxes any more and I'm out of here, with my jobs, taxes and goods and services."
So, we are at the point that the state might just have to step in, as in Bridgeport or Waterbury, and take over Hartford's finances. It sounds drastic, but no one in office - council or mayor - could possibly do what really needs to be done to keep taxes at a sensible level while keeping the lights on.
A highly placed source asked your reporter if we had any contacts in the Governor's office. Well, yes, we do. He said "tell her to send the "A" team."