City Mayors Criticize Malloy Over Budget, Potential Loss Of Money
By CHRISTOPHER KEATING
March 20, 2013
Big-city mayors stepped up their criticism of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's budget Wednesday, saying a proposal to eliminate the car tax is driving nowhere fast.
Malloy is calling for the elimination of the local property tax on all but the most expensive cars, but the plan would cost Stamford more than $20 million and Bridgeport about $17.5 million because the money the cities lose would not be reimbursed by the state.
"I think the governor's proposal is dead on arrival,'' said Jim Finley, the chief executive officer and longtime lobbyist for the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. "There are no votes for it.''
Regarding a possible phase-in of changes in the car tax, Finley said, "Everything's on the table right now. ... As the Speaker told CCM, whatever happens with the car tax will not happen in this biennium. There will be an ability for cities and towns to prepare for it, and cities and towns will have a seat at the table in the formulation of the change to the car tax.''
The mayors, though, are concerned about far more than the car tax. Malloy has offered a complicated budget that would increase funding for public schools by more than $150 million, but would cut other money that municipalities use to pay police, firefighters, and local parks employees.
New Haven Mayor John DeStefano said Malloy's budget assumes mayors can tighten their belts at the municipal level, but he said he has already cut the parks department over the past decade to 56 employees, down from a high of 106. Those workers oversee 2,275 acres of parkland, 53 sports fields, 25 tennis courts and 415,000 program participants in camps and neighborhood activities throughout New Haven. Overall, Malloy's proposed budget would cut $15 million from the municipal side of the budget in New Haven, DeStefano said.
"In trying to fix this tough state budget, some have said that municipalities need to learn to do more with less,'' DeStefano told reporters at the Capitol. "The message is: We have been doing more with less in solving tough budgets over the last several years.''
Following multiple rounds of layoffs, 335 positions in New Haven have been eliminated — meaning 18 percent of the non-school workforce during the past decade, DeStefano said.
Malloy's chief of staff, Mark Ojakian, responded, "As town leaders know, every budget is about setting priorities. The governor's priority is to continue the effort to improve public schools and create jobs, and to do it without raising taxes. In fact, he is trying to ease the burden on middle class families by providing some much-needed tax relief."
Ojakian added, "We understand that change is hard, but change is also necessary. Local leaders know that."
Standing on the fourth floor of the Capitol during a press conference, Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch said, "The car tax is a lousy tax. Nobody here likes the car tax, but you can't just take $17 million or $18 million out of our budget without a plan to replace that. ... If we had one rate across the state, like Governor Rell proposed, I'd be in favor of that.''
Finley, the CCM chief, said the mayors will continue to speak with legislators in crafting a budget compromise before the legislative session ends June 5.
"To pick one item out of the state-local tax system and ask for such a drastic change doesn't make sense,'' Finley said. "Let's work together and make comprehensive change to make our tax system, at the state level and the local level, fairer and more equitable for all taxpayers.''
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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