Malloy Counters That They, Too, Must Make Hard Decisions
By CHRISTOPHER KEATING
February 15, 2013
Big-city mayors blasted Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's budget proposal Friday, saying it could lead to increased local property taxes and possible layoffs of police and firefighters.
The mayors complained that the complicated, $21.5 billion budget is not transparent, although the Malloy administration has often cited transparency as one of its hallmarks.
They also complained that Malloy has proposed shifting so much money to public education that he has cut funding in many other categories that cities and towns use to pay municipal employees who patrol the streets and plow the snow. Citing education as one of his top priorities, Malloy has proposed spending an additional $152 million in educational cost-sharing funds, particularly to districts with low test scores.
Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia said the budget includes ideas that Malloy has historically opposed, including passing costs along to the cash-strapped cities and towns.
"I honestly believe that if Gov. Malloy was still Mayor Malloy of Stamford, he would be standing with us today,'' Moccia told reporters at a news conference Friday. "We are faced with rising property taxes. We are faced with providing millions of dollars for extra school security, extra police officers. ... And yet, as pointed out, we get no assistance, and we actually get [a] reduction.''
He added, "This is not a budget for the cities. This is a budget for the state.''
The mayors spoke on a back-and-forth day at the state Capitol.
Shortly after 9:30 a.m., Malloy's press office sent reporters a copy of a letter to town leaders that defended Malloy's budget. That came about two hours before the mayors' press conference at 11:30 a.m., which had been announced the previous day. Malloy and his budget director then responded in a separate news conference at 2 p.m. to counter the mayors' statements. The mayors are now hoping to meet with Malloy, saying they had no input before the budget decisions were made.
It was an unusual display at the Capitol as Democratic big-city mayors — including Bridgeport's Bill Finch, New Haven's John DeStefano, and Waterbury's Neil O'Leary — all stood to say they did not favor the budget proposed by the Democratic governor.
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities is known for holding press conferences against budget proposals, but that often included Democratic mayors like DeStefano who were criticizing plans by Republican Govs. John G. Rowland and M. Jodi Rell.
It was not the first time some of his former mayoral peers went up against Malloy. DeStefano and Finch supported Democrat Ned Lamont against Malloy during the 2010 Democratic primary for governor.
Concerning Malloy's proposal, DeStefano said, "This whole budget makes the tax structure more regressive, shrinks the tax base of the job-producing centers of the state [in the big cities] and makes their financial positions more urgent.''
But Malloy, at his press conference Friday afternoon, said the mayors need to make tough budget decisions just as he has had to make them at the state level.
"Change is hard, but we must partner together to set our priorities to find ways to give our middle class a much-deserved break,'' Malloy said of the mayors. "Listen, I ran a city for 14 years. It's not an easy job. I certainly understand it.''
When asked if he would be battling the mayors for the rest of the legislative session, which ends in June, Malloy responded: "I'm not battling anybody. I'm not battling anybody. ... I don't think defending [the budget] and battling are interchangeable. So which one do you want me to answer?''
"Both,'' responded one veteran reporter.
"Well, we're not battling. So next question,'' Malloy said.
When asked why there was such "a big disconnect'' between the mayors and him, Malloy responded, "I don't know, to tell you the truth.''
Malloy added, "Is my way perfect? No, it is not — because the circumstances we're in are not perfect.''
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, a Republican who ran for lieutenant governor in 2010 on the ticket against Malloy, said one of the problems is that Malloy's budget is so complicated, it's hard to follow.
"We don't have any real transparency about what the agenda is,'' Boughton said. "When you read the budget, it's completely different. Black is white. White is black. You're looking through the looking glass. Nothing is as it seems.
"And that is the problem when we talk about transparency. … The play ought to be to be straight with towns, to be straight with the taxpayers, and be straight and say, 'Listen, the changes in the deals we made two years ago probably didn't work out the way we planned. The [state employee union coalition] agreement probably didn't work out the way we planned.'''
The mayors and some legislators say Malloy's budget uses financial gimmicks to move money from one account to another. On Thursday, however, Malloy told reporters flat out that the budget did not include gimmicks.
Part of the battle is over whether the cities are "held harmless'' — a phrase used at the Capitol that means municipalities will receive at least the same amount of overall funding from the state this year that they received last year. The Malloy administration has repeatedly stated that the cities and towns will be "held harmless,'' but the mayors say that is not the case.
When asked by a Waterbury reporter to elaborate on what was not honest in the budget, DeStefano answered, "Hold harmless in the general funds."
He added: "You eliminate $56 million in the Pequot funds. $30 million in manufacturers' inventory, $44 million in revenue sharing, and $35 million in school transportation."
"If we're going to take a cut, let's just say you're going to take a cut — and you're going to have to make it up with property taxes,'' DeStefano said. "We're all adults. I think every one of us has increased property taxes. Every one of us has eliminated positions. And I think every one of us has been pretty tight with a buck.''
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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