What does a mayor do as he’s digesting Thanksgiving overload? Chew on his next budget. Mayor Joe Ganim’s upcoming budget cycle could bloat more indigestion, depending on his success with the next session of the state legislature beginning in January.
To Ganim’s way of thinking his first budget was a mixed stew of tax increases, cuts and stabilization, depending on the neighborhood, in a revaluation year that was put off by his predecessor Bill Finch because he loathed it implemented in an election year. The very governor and state legislature that acquiesced to Finch’s request now become a key component of Ganim’s game plan to deliver a budget for the year starting July 1 without a tax increase. So much of what happens during the legislative session in Hartford impacts the local city budget big-time. That means Mayor Joe will be spend loads of time up there schmoozing legislators grappling with their own state financial challenges to make sure the city receives every possible penny.
Don’t think things are tough for Connecticut cities? Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin says bankruptcy is an option.
Bronin is pressing for an overhaul that would help struggling cities like Hartford. Relief could come in the form of a sales tax hike, a regional tax, or shared services with other towns, he has said.
The mayor is also advocating for increased payment in lieu of taxes. The state reimburses cities and towns for a portion of the municipalities’ tax-exempt property. In Hartford, more than half of the properties are non-taxable, including its many hospitals, nonprofits and colleges.
All of the above Ganim supports to drive more revenue to the state’s most populous city. He can also speak to experience governing a city that was in bankruptcy court, although he did not place it there. When Ganim was first elected in November 1991 at 32 years of age he defeated Republican Mary Moran who had plunged the city into a federal bankruptcy filing June of that year asserting the city needed a fresh start from union agreements and years of financial shell games.
Governor Lowell Weicker told her no how, no way. Attorney General Dick Blumenthal said the same thing. They argued that as a child of the state Bridgeport bankruptcy would damage the state’s credit worthiness. Ultimately a federal judge agreed ruling that the city had not met the dire financial threshold requiring bankruptcy relief.
If you don’t think timing is a factor in municipal financial success the Weicker-Ganim relationship is a case study. Moran had appealed the federal judge’s decision so when Ganim became mayor he had inherited a city still seeking relief. Weicker made things very clear to Ganim, look kid, withdraw the bankruptcy appeal and you’ll have the best friend imaginable. Weicker was true to his word lathering the city in tens of millions of new revenue through the force of his will. A governor can make things happen and Weicker did. Ganim raised taxes his first year as mayor. He did not raise them the next 10 years of JG1.
Without the help of Weicker and the state legislature that does not happen.
And Ganim’s relationship with the city’s eight-member legislative delegation is also key as a unifying force: State Senators Ed Gomes and Marilyn Moore and State House members Steve Stafstrom, Jack Hennessy, Charlie Stallworth, Chris Rosario, Andre Baker and Ezequiel Santiago.
Do relationships matter? Hugely.