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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Mayors rip governor, legislators for cuts

DeStefano leads way in criticizing lack of action on dumping prisoners

By Mary E. O’Leary
Register Topics Editor
HARTFORD
— A coalition of mayors came back to the Capitol Monday to make one thing clear to constituents: Blame the governor and legislature for pending local service cuts and tax increases.
The two Democratic gubernatorial primary contenders, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy, also predicted more violent incidents, like the deadly home invasions which recently occurred in three communities, because of inadequate supervision and support for state prisoners dumped back into their towns.
“When you see those things happening in the coming months, remember what didn’t happen in this session under the leadership of this governor,” DeStefano said.
With state revenues dropping, Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the Democratic leadership are opting to stay with the $18.5 billion budget adopted last year as part of the biennial state budget, rather than proceed with the increased aid to municipalities, non-profits and nursing homes that was on the table a month ago.
“It is a clear statement of policy that says do nothing, stick your head in the sand. It is a vision that lacks any kind of direction, that speaks to mediocrity,” said DeStefano. “This is the politics of Herbert Hoover, revised and delivered in 2008 in Connecticut.”
He blamed the current problem on the legislature increasing spending last year, but not adequately identifying revenue to support it now that the surplus has dried up and a $67 million deficit is projected for 2008-09.
Rell said the biennial budget contains a $131 million increase in municipal aid and boosts overall spending by 4 percent. “We would love to do more, but we don’t have the money,” she said Monday, comparing the state to individual households cutting their personal expenses and she warned of possible state recessions in the coming months.
New Haven’s 2008-09 budget has an estimated $14.2 million hole, $11 million of it in PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) funds and another $2.3 million for an early reading program.
Sean Matteson, DeStefano’s chief of staff, said they want to maintain the tax rate at 42.1 mills, which in the second year of the revaluation phase-in boosts revenues by 11 percent — 1.5 percent due to an increase in the grand list and the remaining because of revaluation.
Another worry is the legislature has yet to extend the real estate conveyance tax beyond June 30, which is a $1.8 million revenue item for New Haven.
DeStefano said he has continued to keep the heads of the 14 bargaining units in the city apprised of the budget problems and while he would not detail his proposals, others said the city is looking at pension adjustments and more cost sharing on health care costs.
The most hopeful scenario that some resolution is possible before the legislature adjourns Wednesday, came from Finance Committee Co-Chairman Rep. Cameron Staples, D-New Haven, who favors negotiating with the GOP minority as the only way to override a Rell veto on budget increases.
The Republican caucuses have suggested a state employee buyout to cut expenses, which Staples said is not out of the question if it is targeted and the savings are there. “We are going to keep fighting,” Staples said.
The real problem is the dependence on the property tax to fund local budgets and the need for systemic tax reform, the mayors agreed, particularly as thousands of residents face possible foreclosure of their homes.
“The people of Connecticut want a tax system that makes some sense. They want a legislature that stops balancing the budget on the backs of the municipalities in the good times and drowning the municipalities in the bad times,” Malloy said.
“I think there are people in this building who want us to go silently into the night, but we are not going to do that anymore,” Malloy said.The mayors were joined by representatives of nonprofit service agencies who will not get a cost of living increase and fear they may have to close their doors.
MWhile Malloy had to leave, a reduced contingent of mayors shouldered on in search of the illusive legislative leaders with whom they were having a hard time getting a meeting. After about 15 minutes of huddling in the entrance to Speaker James Amann’s offices, D-Milford, Amann waved as he walked through on his way to a House session; Senate Pro Tem Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, couldn’t squeeze them in and Lisa Moody, aide to Rell said no to a meeting when emissaries from the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities inquired.aSal Luciano, executive director of Council 4 of AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees), said teacher aides, custodians and health clinic workers are being targeted for layoffs across the state. He argued municipal services are more needed than ever, in the face of a shrinking economy.ry E. O’Leary can be reached at 789-5731 or moleary@nhregister.com

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