The State Isn't To Blame For Hartford's Woeful Financial Shape
MARIE LOPEZ KIRKLEY-BEY
May 17, 2009
Don't blame the state for Hartford's woes.
We are facing an unprecedented increase in Hartford's property taxes this year. Mayor Eddie Perez has proposed raising the tax rate by 8.89 mills, or 13 percent for the average Hartford homeowner. He has raised the tax rate for five consecutive years.
As a homeowner, I will pay more in taxes than I do for my monthly mortgage payment. I am far from the only Hartford homeowner who is facing this problem. Hartford already has the lowest homeownership rate in the state and this will significantly worsen it.
Many of Hartford's homeowners are already struggling to make ends meet. We have already been disproportionately affected with foreclosures. Our homeowners are burdened with increasing interest rates due to predatory mortgages. This increase in taxes will push more homeowners into foreclosure and bankruptcy.
Small businesses will have it even worse. Many small businesses, including restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations, are confronting, on average, a higher percentage property tax increase than those faced by homeowners. Some will be forced to close, relocate to other towns or raise their prices.
Why are property taxes going through the roof? We are not receiving more in city services — quite the opposite. Mayor Perez and his staff would have you believe the increase is the fault of the state. The mayor recently said, "They [the state] are increasing the tax bill of every small business and homeowner in the city." That is simply untrue. Blaming Hartford's troubles on state government is irresponsible and wrong.
Hartford might not be in this predicament if Mayor Perez had met with our city's unions more than once this year to talk about the budget. Maybe if Mayor Perez had done better bookkeeping he would have known he needed to close a $30 million gap, instead of the $6 million to $8 million number he mentioned at the one meeting he had with the municipal unions.
Unions representing Connecticut's state workers agreed to concessions saving the state $700 million. I know that Hartford's public service unions are also willing to work just as hard to save Hartford money, but the mayor must be willing to at least meet a few times.
As Hartford's senior state representative and the city's ranking member of the General Assembly's Appropriations Committee, I have made sure that state funding levels for Hartford were preserved this year. During the worst economic downturn in decades, we are maintaining our strong commitment to Hartford.
I am proud we in the legislature are not inflicting any additional hardships on our cities — especially not at a time like this. Many states around the country have made draconian cuts. Half the states have decreased funding for kindergarten through 12th grade, as well as for public health programs. Twenty-two states have cut programs for the elderly and disabled.
We have managed to avoid these types of cuts in Connecticut with the budget passed by the Appropriations Committee in April. The state budget could be a disaster for Hartford's schools, working families and seniors, but the Hartford delegation is working hard to make sure that does not happen.
Hartford will not see a reduction in state funding through 2011. Hartford will actually see an increase in funding because the state has allocated $12 million directly to the city in federal stimulus money as of today. This includes $1.5 million for homeless programs, $1 million in community block grants, $1.3 million in energy assistance and more than $5 million for the Hartford Housing Authority.
Hartford residents are receiving millions through other stimulus-funded programs, including meals for seniors, increased unemployment benefits, additional training and re-entry programs, and more in WIC and food stamps.
We will be allocating more than $26 million in state funds to Hartford just for education cost sharing.
Perhaps if Mayor Perez had spent as much energy fixing Hartford's budget as he has spent going to court, we would not have this problem.
Mayor Perez, stop blaming Hartford's legislators for the mess you have created. The buck stops with you, not us.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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