Some legislative leaders are befuddled and some “outraged” over the sweetheart bailout that Governor Dan Malloy has gifted political ally Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin as the tin-cup candidate seeks to replace Malloy in the governor’s office. Interesting timing. Mayor Joe Ganim and New Haven Mayor Toni Harp have opined, what about our cities? Ganim, in a letter to state budget director Ben Barnes, offers suggestions how the most unpopular governor in the country can help the state’s largest city in an “impartial and equitable” way.
With the state of Connecticut providing between $750 million to $900 million in financial relief to Hartford, this raises a question of fundamental fairness for Bridgeport and every other city and town.
Let be me be clear: Hartford deserves support. But so does Bridgeport, the largest city in our state. The City of Bridgeport is the most underfunded city in the state on both a per capita basis and in real terms of state aid and assistance furnished on an annual basis.
The City of Bridgeport suffered the worst and largest cut in assistance within the biennium budget adopted by the State for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 as follows:
— Over $15 million dollar cut in FY18 municipal funding for the city budget.
— There was a $17 million real reduction in FY19 over the last two years.
— In 2018 the City of Bridgeport has received $48 million less in state aid than the City of Hartford for exactly the same state aid allocations and formula.
— Bridgeport Public Schools receive approximately $20 million less than Hartford Public Schools, even though student populations are similar.
In other words, the largest City in the state of Connecticut is receiving less than half the aid per capital than our sister City of Hartford.
While Bridgeport has taken steps to deal with this problem of underfunding from state aid, we are asking that you review these items and assist our city to seek impartial and equitable support.
The City of Bridgeport has managed our way through these tough financial times by cutting costs and service levels, and seeking enhanced revenues. However, Bridgeport’s debt service is almost 15% of the City’s budget and our mil rate is high, at approximately 54 mils. Bridgeport taxpayers deserve relief from this high mil rate and the only way that can happen is for the State to agree to properly fund the City of Bridgeport.
It has been recently announced that the City of Hartford will be provided over $750 million in revenue assistance from the state to pay off all of Hartford’s outstanding principal and interest. This was done by way of Public Act 17-2 Section 376 authorizes contract assistance to cities in need and Sections 377 to 553 authorize state bonding for many uses. Other legislation, Senate Bill 1502 sections 349 through 375 established the Municipal Accountability Review Board (MARB) and the process of Tiers for municipalities.
The City of Bridgeport believes the only solution in fairness is for the state to allocate assistance that Bridgeport and its citizens also deserve. We are not looking for a bailout. Bridgeport is viewed as one of the best run cities in the country posting balanced budgets despite these enormous financial challenges. The city therefore is not a City which needs or desires, an oversight board. The City believes in a stronger local and state partnership to help Bridgeport achieve a fair level of financial support.
Therefore, the City would like to propose the following solutions which can be considered for Bridgeport and could begin the process of a more comprehensive urban policy for all cities:
1. The City proposes that the State issue $300 million of bonds to retire the City’s remaining interest on outstanding principal bonds. This would be at no cost to the state. The City would offer to pay back the interest on such newly issued State bonds (issued at current rates) with a savings of almost 35% of the existing City pension bonds.
2. The City proposes a twenty million allocation over the next two years ($40 million) to the City of Bridgeport from the state’s legislated aid for cities in need of funding which had been intended to help multiple cities, beyond funds available for debt service to Hartford.
3. The City will agree that all new state funds given to the City will be used to reduce the City’s real property mil rate and provide funding for youth programs and services.
In summary, we believe this is the time for bold and decisive action to restore a level of fairness and equity to the City of Bridgeport and its citizens who have been shortchanged by the state for too long. This also begins the process of restoring our cities to become the vibrant urban centers that can sustain themselves and drive our state economy to benefit all residents of Connecticut.