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?