Big-city mayors blasted Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget proposal Friday, saying it could lead to increased local property taxes and possible future layoffs of police and firefighters.
The mayors complained that the complicated budget is not transparent – one of the often-repeated hallmarks of the Malloy administration. 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.
Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia said the budget offers proposals that Malloy has historically opposed, including passing costs along to the cash-strapped cities and towns.
“I honestly believe that if Governor 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 reduction.”
He added, “This is not a budget for the cities. This is a budget for the state.”
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 was often Democratic mayors like DeStefano who were criticizing plans by Republican Governors John G. Rowland and M. Jodi Rell.
Despite working with Malloy as fellow mayors for years, both DeStefano and Finch supported Democrat Ned Lamont against Malloy during the 2010 Democratic primary for governor.
DeStefano added, “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 called a press conference Friday afternoon to specifically rebut the mayors’ claims and complaints. He said the mayors need to make tough budget decisions in the same way that he has 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 remainder of the legislative session that 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 a veteran radio reporter.
“Well, we’re not battling. So next question,” Malloy said.
When asked why there was such “a big disconnect” between the mayors and himself on the cuts in the budget, 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.”
The mayors and some legislators say Malloy’s budget is known for being a gimmick-filled shell game with money being moved around from one account to another. On Thursday, however, Malloy told reporters flat out that the budget did not include gimmicks.
The mayors said they are willing to take the painful medicine as long as they are given a straight story. The Malloy administration has repeatedly stated that the cities and towns will be “held harmless” – meaning they would receive the same amount of overall funds that they received last year – and maintains that position today.
When asked by a Waterbury reporter to elaborate on what was not honest in the budget, DeStefano said, “Hold harmless in the general funds. You eliminate $56 million in the Pequot funds, $30 million in manufacturer’s 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.”
Moccia added, “At the very least, we’d like to be held harmless – and this is not a hold-harmless budget.”
Since the budget was released last week, Republicans and Democrats have been at odds. Senate Republican leader John McKinney said that Malloy’s fiscal plan was the most dishonest budget that he has seen at the Capitol in 15 years.
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, a Republican who ran for lieutenant governor in 2010 on the ticket against Malloy, said that one of the problems is that Malloy’s budget is so complicated that it is difficult to follow.
“We don’t have any real transparency about what the agenda is,’’ Boughton told reporters. “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 SEBAC agreement probably didn’t work out the way we planned.’ ’’