Big-city mayors blasted Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget Wednesday as municipal leaders said that Malloy’s car tax elimination plan is driving nowhere fast.
“I think the governor’s proposal is dead on arrival,” said Jim Finley, the longtime chief Capitol 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.”
Concerning the reasons for the plan, Finley said, “I don’t know what the governor’s motivation was. I’ll take him at his word that he wanted to provide direct property tax relief to car owners. But it comes at a terrible cost to municipalities.”
Stamford, Malloy’s hometown that is now operated by Republican mayor Michael Pavia, would lose more than $20 million if the car taxes were eliminated.
New Haven Mayor John DeStefano said that Malloy’s budget assumes belt-tightening at the municipal level, but he has already cut the parks department down to 56 employees, from a high of 106, 10 years ago.
Those workers oversee 2,275 acres of parkland, 53 sports fields, 25 tennis courts, and 415,000 program participants in camps and neighborhood activities in New Haven.
“In trying to fix this tough state budget, some have said that municipalities need to learn to do more with less,” DeStefano said. “The message is: we have been doing more with less in solving tough budgets over the last several years.”
Following rounds of layoffs, 335 filled positions have been eliminated – meaning 18 percent of the non-school workforce in the last decade, DeStefano said.
“We have laid off police officers in New Haven,” he said.
Malloy’s proposed budget would cut $15 million on the municipal side in New Haven, 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 state Capitol during a press conference, Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch said, “I think you see all the mayors here, united.”
He added, “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. … We have people living on the edge because of this mortgage crisis. … In my neck of the woods, and in Mike’s neck of the woods [in Stamford], we have people register them in New York because there is no car tax there. We create a moral hazard for the people of Connecticut and we say, ‘if you go outside the city, you’ll cut your car tax. And if you go outside the state, there will be no car tax.’ We’re collecting 75 percent of the car tax. I’d much rather collect the 98 percent, like I do on the house tax.”
Finch continued, “If we had one rate across the state like Governor Rell proposed, I’d be in favor of that.”
Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary said the state is proposing to send $10 million in additional funds to the Waterbury public schools.
“The truth is our board of education only asked for half of it,” O’Leary said. “So we’re getting 5 million extra dollars.”
Since he became mayor, O’Leary said, he has not filled more than 100 and then cut 12 to 15 “meaningful jobs.”
Finley said, “To pick one item out of the state-local tax system and ask for such a drastic change doesn’t make sense. … 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.”