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Budget Submission Leap Of Faith

March 26th, 2013 · 3 Comments · Analysis and Comment, City Budget, City Council

On Monday April 1, the Bridgeport City Council could receive Mayor Bill Finch’s spending plan for the budget year starting July 1. Will it be loaded with fool’s gold? Or maybe a leap of faith? Or maybe a prayer or two on Easter Monday? This is not going to be a happy budget cycle for anyone, be it the mayor or members of the city’s legislative body, and oh, did we forget the taxpayer? But what budget proposal anywhere these days is a happy time?

As we enter Passover and resurrection week, the mayor’s budget’s in need of financial resuscitation. So much of what city bean counters plug into the mayor’s spending plan depends on the situation in Hartford where the state legislature decides its budget and what goodies (or not) comes the city’s way. Democratic Governor Dan Malloy who’ll need urban voters next year in what’s shaping up as a tough reelection has pretty much said to Bridgeport, “Boys, you’re on your own.” He’s cut this, that and the other thing the city historically has relied on in state support. Roughly 40 percent of total budget revenue comes from the state, according to city bean counters. Whatever less the city receives must be made up in either new local revenue sources, or cuts, or both.

Once the mayor submits the budget it will be turned over to the council’s Budget and Appropriations Committee chaired by councilors Sue Brannelly and Angel DePara. Fire up the coffee, better yet intravenous feedings of joe. Lots of long nights reviewing revenues, expenses, calling in department heads to listen to the begging and size up what must stay or go. For more than 10 years Councilman Bob Curwen had taken the lead handling City Council chores as budget co-chair, but Curwen has been invisible from the council since January when he announced his resignation, albeit without an official written letter. It forced City Council President Tom McCarthy to drop him as co-chair of budgets and replace him with Brannelly.

The city historically submits its budget to the City Council based on the governor’s proposed budget. This budget cycle, however, will rely on the state legislature’s response to the governor’s spending proposal. Examples, the governor’s budget cuts revenues to the city from the state’s slot take from the two tribal gaming operations, as well as payments in lieu of taxes for tax-exempt properties. He also wants to eliminate taxes on automobiles that represents roughly $17 million in revenue to the city. Even if the governor’s car tax elimination is rejected by the legislature, the city’s roughly $10 million short on the revenue side, according to estimates by the mayor. How is that made up? Tax increase.

So looks like there will be a tax increase, the question is how high?

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3 Comments so far ↓

  • John Marshall Lee

    Shouldn’t the voter have a choice of what a truly lean City budget would look like? That has not been what has been submitted in recent years. Padding everywhere. Ghost positions (admitted to three months into the budget year by net $3.6 Million in cuts), expenses budgeted and not spent in those line items by year end, no final post audit 12th month June report to reconcile actual expenses, creeping use of TANs to get by and defer payment into the next FY, maintenance of an Airport with poor taxpayers paying for a losing operation, etc., etc., etc. How are the watchdogs monitoring public-safety overtime? And what is the story of Legal expenses over budget? Does the largest City in the State with the fattest stipends for Council persons feel any need to share with taxpayers how much, why and where those Council persons are spending those REIMBURSEMENT dollars?

    And the fun will begin on April 1, 2013. Push another button on the machines and run a report on how to get expenses down to taxpayer affordability, Mayor Finch!! Easy for you. Hard for us. Shock and awe. Time will tell.

  • Jimfox

    It’s time for Zero-Based Budgeting

    I call on all members of the Budget and Appropriations Committee chaired by councilors Sue Brannelly and Angel DePara to implement a Zero-Based Budgeting plan, this the only way to keep the city’s taxes down.

    Zero-based budgeting is an approach to planning and decision-making which reverses the working process of traditional budgeting. In traditional incremental budgeting (Historic Budgeting), departmental managers justify only variances versus past years, based on the assumption the “baseline” is automatically approved. By contrast, in zero-based budgeting, every line item of the budget must be approved, rather than only changes. During the review process, no reference is made to the previous level of expenditure. Zero-based budgeting requires the budget request be re-evaluated thoroughly, starting from the zero base. This process is independent of whether the total budget or specific line items are increasing or decreasing.

  • Dave Walker

    It’s very simple. There is no way Bridgeport can afford to raise taxes again. The Mayor needs to submit a budget that holds the line on taxes, does not borrow to finance operating costs, and cuts spending by the required amount, irrespective of what state aid the City receives. He needs to quit making excuses and start transforming City government. Mayor Finch promised Bridgeport citizens when he was running for re-election he would “hold the line on taxes.” He failed to do so in his first budget submission after his re-election. In addition, his salary and those of many other City managers, including the employee salary of the President of the City Council, were raised at the same time. This was wholly inappropriate and a blatant conflict of interest for any City Council members who were employees at the time. Did they recuse themselves from voting on the budget? Who is representing the taxpayers? Who is holding the Mayor accountable? It’s time for real change in Bridgeport.

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