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Mayors Decry Proposed Budget Cuts

February 12, 2005
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer

Everyone knows that the alternate name for the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities is Connecticut's Crying Mayors, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano said Friday.

And crying - or, more politely, complaining - about proposed state and federal budgets that could force cities such as New Haven and Hartford to raise property taxes is just what DeStefano and Mayor Eddie A. Perez did together in a press conference in Hartford Friday.

"The heart of the matter is that when state and federal governments continue to do what they're doing, which is cutting budgets, the only source [of new revenue] I have is the property tax," Perez said after the press conference.

And in a city with a high rate of poverty and a large percentage of its real estate exempt from local taxes, Perez says he's in a fix.

"Our goal here is to prevent some of the cuts," he said.

According to estimates from the governor's office, Connecticut stands to lose about 8 percent, or $97 million, in certain key federal aid programs - including the popular Community Development Block Grant program. On the state level, Gov. M. Jodi Rell proposed a $15.3 billion state budget this week that the mayors said failed to adequately address property tax reform.

"The governor recognizes that she had to make difficult choices," said Rell spokesman Rich Harris, adding that Rell did what she could to increase education, transportation and other funding. "And one of the reasons she had to make them is she's cleaning up a mess that has been left behind by the Democratic leadership in the General Assembly."

At the press conference, Perez spoke of the loss of federal dollars coming into the state.

Specifically referring to the block grant program, Perez said he expects a $3 million loss in federal revenue to the city, money that has been spent on homeownership programs, development subsidies for new housing, urban revitalization programs, riverfront development, and even public safety.

"A cut of $3 million of CDBG means we have to make this up somewhere else," Perez said.

DeStefano, who is running for governor, criticized Rell on transportation funding and property tax reform.

First, he said that Rell's $1.3 billion over 10 years for transportation isn't enough to buy the system the state now has. DeStefano took swings at Rell's vision of property taxes.

In her budget address, the governor spoke of the false cry of property tax reform, calling it false "because in the end it is the same beleaguered taxpayer footing the bill - and finding no relief whatsoever."

"The governor doesn't get it, and if you're middle class, you get it," DeStefano responded Friday.

"It's not all the same dollars, and it's not the same pocket that the dollars are coming out of," he said. "It's coming out of working, middle-class families." Harris, Rell's spokesman, said the governor's job is much more difficult than that of two dissenting mayors.

"It's easy to criticize when you don't have to offer specifics," Harris said. "The governor unfortunately has to."

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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