The battle between Mayor Eddie Perez and City Council over the 2009-2010 budget continued in earnest Tuesday night and will be taken up again at a special Council meeting at noon today, May 28, after presstime. The budget must be finalized by the end of this month.
Perez had presented his “toughest ever” budget to Council on April 21. After a series of public hearings, a majority of Council members decided that the budget – which included a tax hike of 8.87 mils – was too tough on the taxpayers and therefore made several amendments to the proposed budget in an effort to decrease the tax hike. All in all, Council cut approximately $19 million from the $547.6 million budget which Perez had proposed.
Among the major cuts recommended by Council were a $6.4 million reduction in city employee salaries and fringe benefits; a $3 million cut to the Board of Education’s budget; cutting the mayor’s proposed Arts Jobs Initiative from $1.1 million to $500,000; and eliminating the mayor’s proposed $1.5 million Foreclosure Assistance Program.
Last Friday, Perez vetoed all four of those amendments plus several others, calling Council’s proposed budget cuts “reckless.” In addition, Perez submitted three resolutions along with his vetos, calling for an additional $3.7 million in cuts (including a $273,000 reduction in the City Council’s own budget). However, on Tuesday night, Councilman Ken Kennedy said that at this stage, under the Charter, the Mayor can only act on the amemndments Council had made, not introduce new resolutions. Kennedy and Corporation Counsel John Rose had a heated discussion about the issue but no final agreement was reached.
Council needs at least seven votes to override a mayoral veto, according to the Charter. Up until just a few years ago, Perez’s influence on the Council was so great that amassing so many votes against him was virtually unthinkable. But times have changed.
Council considered 21 of the Mayor’s 31 vetos. Five were overridden; eight were accepted and eight were postponed until Thursday.
Council voted to override Perez’s veto of the $3 million cut to the Board of Education and his veto of the elimination of the Foreclosure Assistant Program. It also struck down the Mayor’s veto of a $125,000 increase for the Hartford Public Library in order to extend its hours.
However, they could not collect enough votes to override the mayor’s veto of the $600,000 cut in the Arts Initiative.
Council also failed to override the Mayor’s veto of Council’s plan to move responsibility for Contract Compliance and Enforcement from the Office of Human Relations to Developmental Services. This change would have been accompanied by a substantial cut in the Human Relations’ budget.
The Council postponed voting on a $6.1 million reduction in city employee salaries, partly because the City is still negotiating for concessions from the city employee unions. Several other votes were postponed because the text of what the mayor said he was vetoing differed from the actual amendments that Council had agreed on and sent to his office.
City Council’s six Democrats were split at Tuesday night’s meeting with Councilmembers Kennedy, Pedro Segarra, Jim Boucher and Matt Ritter usually voting to override the mayor’s vetoes and Councilmembers Calixto Torres and rJo Winch voting to sustain them.
That left the three minority seat members (Luis Cotto and Dr. Larry Deutsch of the Working Families Party and Republican Veronica Airey-Wilson) in the driver’s seat.