By: Edward M. Corey
Legislators in Hartford reached a deal on Tuesday to eliminate the state budget deficit for the current fiscal year. Mayor Erin Stewart (R-New Britain) has expressed concerned about potential future cuts to municipal aid from the state.
“While we have made immense progress over the last three years to improve our financial footing, we are beginning to feel the effects of the painful cuts at the state level,” said Mayor Stewart. Stewart has ordered a hiring freeze and a freeze on discretionary spending from city departments. The Mayor has said she expects up to a 5% cut in municipal aid funding.
Members of the New Britain legislative delegation praised the budget deficit mitigation deal reached on Tuesday as a bipartisan solution to the estimated $220 million budget deficit.
“By working across party lines, we managed to cut $220 million in spending while still protecting taxpayers, hospitals and service providers – a vital part of our economy and the town of New Britain,” said State Representative Peter Tercyak (D-New Britain).
The budget deal, which addresses the projected deficit for this fiscal year, ending on June 30th, passed the House with 127 votes in favor and just 16 votes against. Representative Bobby Sanchez, another Democratic member of the New Britain delegation, was one of just nine Democrats in the House to oppose the plan.
“I was disappointed to read that Mayor Erin Stewart of New Britain has again raised the alarm that cuts to municipal aid are coming. Fortunately, I am happy to inform the people of New Britain that she is wrong and that municipal aid is not being cut,” said Senator Terry Gerratana (D-New Britain). Legislators have consistently been claiming that municipal aid is not on the chopping block when discussing the new budget deal.
“I hope that in the future she will reach out to me for information before making such ill-informed statements” said Gerratana. The budget agreement only deals with the deficit for the fiscal year ending June 30th, with the deficit for the next fiscal year has yet to be discussed.
“The problem is next year where they are facing a $900 million deficit… We have no idea what to expect then and we certainly need to plan ahead,” said the Mayor in a facebook comment on March 29th. Stewart has also said that while the state has dealt with the deficit for this fiscal year without reducing municipal aid, there is still uncertainty regarding the deficit for next year.
Despite claiming that municipal aid cuts from the state are impacting the city budget, the major cost increases cited by the Mayor’s office are primarily city debt and employee benefit obligations. Per the Mayor’s office, debt service payment obligations are expected to increase $14.3 million, with employee health insurance and pension obligations increasing by $3.02 million next year.
The Board of Finance and Taxation has presented a total budget of $245.91 million, which the Mayor says she is attempting to reduce as she prepares her own budget proposal. Mayor Stewart will present her budget proposal to the Republican controlled Common Council on April 13th.
Image Credit: City of New Britain