Stafstrom: Revitalizing Cities Key To Economic Growth

State Rep. Steve Stafstrom, whose district was hit hard by the latest tax increase, issued this eblast to constituents asserting there is plenty of blame to go around. The solution, he writes, “In order to improve the pace of Connecticut’s economic growth, it is abundantly clear that we have to fix our cities and this starts with reforming the regressive property tax structure that imposes an undue burden on city residents and stifles job growth and economic development.” From Stafstrom:

As a homeowner, I share the frustration and concern that many of you have expressed with local property taxes following the distribution of 2016 city tax bills. While there is plenty of shared blame for Bridgeport’s current, burdensomely high mil rate, this is not simply a neighborhood or municipal issue–it is a State concern that has been decades in the making.

For far too long, Connecticut has turned a blind eye to its cities, letting them suffocate under the legacy costs they incurred generations ago in order to be the post-war, industrial drivers the State relied upon to build our 20th Century economy. As heavy industrial production declined, Connecticut led the charge to suburban corporate office parks where development was cheap and costs were lower.

Now, in the 21st Century innovative economy, businesses and young professionals are looking to move back to dynamic, livable, walkable cities. Connecticut has been late to recognize this demand and is now disadvantaged by having cities who for far too long have been left to bear their own legacy costs as residents have fled to lower cost municipalities. Certainly, a modicum of poor municipal decision making has compounded the problem for Bridgeport.

But, the fact remains that the current reality of high taxes, underfunded schools and reduced services in our cities has caught up with us, as business and residents look out of State for the dynamic city life they crave. To punctuate this point, a recent report published by the Commission on Economic Competitiveness found that revitalizing our urban cores is one of the keys to our future economic growth as a state. In order to improve the pace of Connecticut’s economic growth, it is abundantly clear that we have to fix our cities and this starts with reforming the regressive property tax structure that imposes an undue burden on city residents and stifles job growth and economic development.

Though we only recently started making progress on fixing a decades old problem, I’m proud of the work the Legislature has done over the past two sessions that has begun to move the State in this direction. For the first time in the State’s history, we have allowed cities a revenue stream other than the property tax by sharing with them a small portion of the sales tax. This has allowed us to cut and cap the car tax and send additional municipal aid of around $7 million per year back to Bridgeport.

We have worked in a bipartisan fashion to save Bridgeport taxpayers $10 million in pension payments over the next two years, and have allowed municipalities a local option to impose an admissions tax at entertainment venues. Our current mil rate would be even higher without this significant State action.

Perhaps most significantly though, we have implemented a spending cap beginning in FY 18 to help force municipalities to live within their means. However, as evidenced by recent municipal budgets, this is just scratching the surface and significant tax relief is still needed for our city residents. To that effect, the State needs to re-double its efforts to partner with Bridgeport and other cities in helping them to thrive as the livable, walkable and sustainable regional job creators and economic drivers we need them to be.

When the 2017 Session of the General Assembly convenes in January we must join with all our municipal colleagues to work together to regionalize services, reduce costs, find alternative revenue steams and address our debt obligations. We owe this to all of our residents and the growth of our cities and State economy depend upon it.

I welcome your suggestions, comments and feedback as we prepare to continue this effort in the January Session.



  1. Representative Stafstrom,
    Your constituents do not need to be lectured. You are not addressing a high school class. Your constituents expect accountability in city government and they did not see it with this city budget session. The postponement of pension payments is not an example of the difficult decisions to be made by the state legislature. As you alluded to, if property taxes remain the basis for revenue for cities, assistance in reducing expenses is what you should be working on.

    1. Tom White, spot on!!!
      When Steve Stafstrom states: “We have worked in a bipartisan fashion to save Bridgeport taxpayers $10 million in pension payments over the next two years,” what is the meaning of his word “save” to the average reader? After all, what actually happened was Ganim2 asked for a DEFERRAL of a pension obligation for up to six years and received a DEFERRAL for two years. What Steve knows but perhaps did not have enough space to tell us, is the DEFERRAL will cost more to pay in future years, as these pension DEFERRALS always do. There is no explanation of how this matter was not voted upon by our City Council. There is no information provided as to where a taxpayer can secure all the various pension schedules of City payments. So the word “save” is not like saving in a saving account, or money set aside for future spending, because G2 with the CC review this spring still found it necessary to increase City spending by $28 Million at least. Can we learn better how words can be used to make us feel better about our elected leaders but really do not serve our comprehension well? Certain matters like opening new revenue spouts around Sales Tax sharing and auto taxation work for us in the City with less spin. Time will tell.

  2. Our present state delegation would do well to consult with a few of our former delegation members in regard to staying on top of acute and chronic city issues and working on addressing those issues in the General Assembly.

    While some real knowledge and understanding of Bridgeport’s issues, as well as some legislative initiative, has been displayed by our delegation in Hartford during the past couple of legislative sessions, it hasn’t been nearly enough from any of the members of the delegation (and especially deficient when considering the delegation as a whole).

    For examples of Bridgeport delegation legislative leadership, I would advise the present delegation (and, more importantly, those chosen in November) to channel the examples and tap the wisdom of Chris Caruso, Bob Keeley, Hector Diaz and Lee Samowitz in terms of their advocacy for Bridgeport. Lee Samowitz designed/wrote and moved into statute many fine pieces of legislation designed to address Bridgeport economic development issues, especially in regard to brownfields legislation. And all of those individuals spent tremendous amounts of time in the neighborhoods throughout Bridgeport gaining knowledge of all levels of Bridgeport issues and didn’t simply confine themselves to the concerns of their specific districts. They sought to address Bridgeport issues holistically, in all senses of the word. And they served the specific needs of the citizens of their districts.

    But most importantly, they didn’t practice a policy of marching in lockstep with the reigning governor or the State Central Committee of their Democratic party. And they knew how to form strong alliances with the other distressed urban areas.

    Now, we see too little legislative initiative and too much party politics from our delegation.

    Bridgeport and our delegation should be much more conscious and much less tolerant of our poor treatment by the state. It’s fine to try to work in harmony with the rest of the Assembly, but it is not effective to consistently withhold outrage and go with the tide when it doesn’t serve Bridgeport or the state.

    The delegation needs to start thinking and acting big on behalf of Bridgeport. The delegation needs to start writing and pushing bills that address the gamut of Bridgeport problems, especially economic development.

    If it is true the cities hold the key to Connecticut’s economic future, then there shouldn’t be any shyness from our delegation about asking for very big dollars for Bridgeport for a variety of big economic development goals. If we believe what is good for the cities is good for the state, then our delegation shouldn’t be bashful about designing and demanding the adoption of a comprehensive urban agenda as the focus of the next legislative session. And, Bridgeport being the largest and best situated (geographically and demographically) potential economic engine in the state, should logically be the priority focus of the next session, and the next and the next. Until Bridgeport is back on top leading the state back to prosperity.

    For decades, our delegation, with only short-lived sporadic exception, has been behaving as a band of shameful beggars, afraid to ask for more than some “spare change” from a state that has benefited mightily from its labor and other assets, even as it shunted its economic lifeblood to unlikely and illogical places. While this has left Bridgeport dying, it has also inflicted great harm to the rest of the state, as Connecticut’s rapidly deteriorating condition has begun to demonstrate.

    The ’90s was the last period of effective advocacy for Bridgeport in Hartford. Those fruitful days ended with the 2000 reapportionment stealing the 125th Assembly District from Bridgeport and locating it down-county to New Canaan. (It’s time to move it back. Our population has grown by 10,000 since that time.)

    So nice letter, Steve. Now please act on the content of that letter as the basis for your legislative agenda when the 2017 GA session begins!

    1. That was a good and accurate reading, Jeff. Steve is my State Rep and I’m happy with the work he’s doing. He’s accessible to our constituents, they like and appreciate his efforts and support him completely. He’s relatively new to Hartford, yet he keeps up with the best of them. Maybe it would be a good idea for him to reach out to some of his predecessors if only to listen and take what he could use. Times change so quickly in politics, but history is always helpful. My advice, keep doing what you’re doing, and keep your head down when possible.

  3. Great response, Jeff! Rep. Stafstrom is correct; but giving more money or breaking down barriers for a city that cannot get out of its own way seems like a wasted effort. Citizens of Bridgeport have to reclaim our own house with a new mayor and town council that have the best interest of the whole city in mind. That, with a smart, diligent state delegation could be the formula that raises Bridgeport up after 40 years in the doldrums.


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