Hartford, Conn. (March 28, 2016) – Today, Mayor Luke Bronin testified before the Connecticut General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Finance, Revenue, and Bonding in support of a bill titled, “An Act Establishing the Hartford Financial Sustainability Commission” (SB 464).
Here is the full-text of Mayor Bronin’s submitted testimony:
Chairman Fonfara, Chairman Berger, Ranking Members Frantz and Davis, and members of the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee:
Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today to express my strong support for Senate Bill 464, titled "An Act Establishing the Hartford Financial Sustainability Commission."
Our Capital City is in Fiscal Crisis
Since taking office less than three months ago, my team has been “under the hood,” examining the city’s budget numbers and testing every assumption. Hartford’s fiscal situation is worse than we could have imagined, with a deficit of at least $48.5 million in FY 2017 on our $263 million non-education budget.
A large portion of that $263 million non-education budget is fixed cost, including $30 million in debt service, more than $40 million on payments into the pension fund, and more than $20 million on largely fixed costs, including utilities. When you consider that the remaining “unfixed” costs include essential services like fire, police, and public works, a nearly $48.5 million deficit represents a massive, catastrophic gap.
As bad as it is, the FY 2017 deficit of $48.5 million is not the number that should concern us the most.
For one thing, the problem only gets worse after 2017. A few years down the road, the projected deficit is so big that even eliminating the entire police department and the entire fire department would not close the gap.
For another thing, at 74 mills the City of Hartford’s property taxes are already so high that it makes it hard to grow our way out of this crisis. Rather than looking at the gap between current revenues and expenses, we should ask what our deficit would be if Hartford had a competitive mill rate — say 45, which is still higher than nearly any other town in the region. At that mill rate, our deficit would be over $100 million.
In short, the City of Hartford is in a full-blown fiscal crisis.
SB 464 Will Help Our Capital City
To help us meet this crisis, I am advocating for the passage of this bill because it will help us to make the changes Hartford needs to get our house in order.
The bill establishes a financial sustainability commission, which would serve as the arbitration panel or "referee" if we are unable to reach agreements with our municipal unions. The language regarding the role of the commission, as it relates to arbitration, is based on the legislation that helped the City of Waterbury restructure its costs a decade ago. It would include city council members, me as mayor, representatives of small business owners, labor, residents, large employers and the state.
The bill would also give us greater authority to determine what the taxpayers can afford to pay into the pension fund, would require coalition bargaining on health care, would ensure that Hartford's schools aren't punished by the state if we're unable to make the full education payment currently required by state law, and would give us greater ability to obtain assistance from our largest companies and tax-exempt institutions.
What has been proposed in SB 464 would not eliminate collective bargaining, would not affect any existing contracts, would not provide any legal authority to diminish pensions already earned and vested, and would not take away the authority of the Hartford City Council. Rather, it would give the City Council and the Mayor additional tools to determine the size and cost of Hartford’s government, at a time when our city is in crisis.
Acknowledging the Concerns of Labor
I understand and respect the opposition of those in labor who oppose this bill. I have long supported organized labor and respect all public employees, and it is not easy to propose a bill opposed by many friends and allies. But my highest obligation is to the city I was elected to serve, and to the taxpayers of Hartford.
If this bill passes, the next step would be negotiation. I am ready to negotiate and am hopeful that negotiation would yield agreement. But where contracts have been in negotiation since before I took office, we simply cannot afford to be bound by the offers made by the last administration. And if negotiations reach an impasse, the final referee must be a body that has the financial sustainability of our capital city as its primary obligation.
Our budget gap is so significant that, even if we can obtain substantial savings from contract negotiations, and even if we can get help from Hartford’s largest institutions, we will have no choice but to make deep cuts in a city where staffing is already lean. If we are not able to find substantial savings through contract negotiations, we will be forced to make unconscionable cuts that are too deep to sustain.
Let’s be very clear: SB 464 will help, but it’s not the whole answer.
There are many reasons why Hartford faces this fiscal crisis. Part of the problem is mistakes of the past. Hartford refinanced its debt multiple times, and that bill is now coming due. Previous administrations also promised benefits and embarked on pet projects that Hartford’s tax base cannot support.
Facing big deficits in recent years, Hartford relied on one-time revenues — selling parking garages and taking employee benefits reserves – to close budget gaps. Past administrations also raised taxes, generating revenue in the short term, but making it harder and harder for Hartford to grow.
So yes, part of the problem is the result of Hartford’s past mistakes. But a far larger part of the problem is that Connecticut’s cities face nearly insurmountable obstacles.
The City of Hartford is less than eighteen square miles. Property taxes are our biggest source of local revenue, yet more than half of our property is tax-exempt. We are home to state government and to non-profit institutions that serve the region and the state, but which pay no taxes to the City of Hartford. We house a vastly disproportionate share of the region’s social service providers, halfway houses, shelters, and clinics. And our population is among the poorest in the nation.
Hartford’s property tax base is simply not sufficient to support the services the City of Hartford must provide. The deepest cuts, the most painful concessions, the elimination of services, and even the most generous help from institutions and other stakeholders in Hartford — all of that will only get us part of the way toward closing the gap in the years ahead. The problem is structural, and it cannot be fixed by Hartford alone.
SB 464 will help us do as much as we can to get Hartford’s finances in order. I ask you to support SB 464, because, in this time of statewide fiscal crisis, now more than ever we must do everything we possibly can to fix the problem at a local level — and without this bill, it will be difficult to find a way forward in the near term. But I want to make very clear that SB 464 will only buy us time. Without a new model for sustaining cities in Connecticut, our capital city — and the entire greater Hartford region — will be condemned to a future of reversible decline.
I refuse to accept a future of decline for Hartford, and no matter what district you represent, neither should you.
Please, give us the tools we are asking for in SB 464. And, down the road, let’s have the bigger conversation about how we can build Connecticut’s cities into vibrant, strong urban centers — cities that will help us keep our young people close to home; cities that will attract the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs; cities that will help Connecticut compete for the biggest employers in the world, not lose them.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin
Hartford, Conn. (March 23, 2016) – Today, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin testified before the Connecticut General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Judiciary regarding a bill that’s been coined as Second Chance Society 2.0 (SB 18).
Here’s the full-text of his comments in support of the bill:
Chairman Coleman, Chairman Tong, Ranking Members Kissel and Rebimbas, and members of the Judiciary Committee:
Thank you for the opportunity to testify here before you today. I want to express my strong support for Senate Bill 18 – An Act Concerning a Second Chance Society.
Last year, the Second Chance Society initiative – supported by this committee, both chambers of the General Assembly, and signed into law by Governor Malloy – established Connecticut as a national leader in common sense criminal justice reform, reducing the penalties for mere drug possession and expediting the parole and pardon process for low-risk offenders.
The bill being considered today – coined Second Chance Society 2.0 – builds on last year’s historic reforms, and continues the important effort to ensure that past mistakes, particularly those made in youth, do not represent a permanent and insurmountable barrier to employment and opportunity.
For too long, our state – like many others – has incarcerated too many individuals. The cost of over-incarcerating non-violent offenders is high, not only for the State, which spends $43,000 annually for incarcerating individuals, but for the families and the communities most directly affected, too. Nearly two-thirds of those incarcerated remain unemployed after being released, and those who find employment receive 40 percent less than those without a criminal record.
If enacted, SB 18 would decrease the number of low-risk, non-violent individuals held in pre-trial detention. Research shows that individuals who are held in jail for 8 to 14 days are over fifty percent more likely to recidivate. This is often because such individuals are likely to lose their job or housing while in jail, unable to make bail. Jail time should be a function of the severity of the crime and the risk the individual poses to society, not a function of an individual’s financial capacity to post bail.
Additionally, this bill would allow offenders under the age of 20 to be tried in the juvenile justice system rather than adult court and permanently seal their records until after sentence completion. This measure would complement other reforms proposed this legislative session like HB 5237 and SB 430 that recognize past mistakes should not be a permanent barrier to opportunity.
While we’ve made significant progress towards ending the cycle of permanent punishment in Connecticut, we can do better. This bill builds on that progress and moves Connecticut one step closer to being a true second chance society.
I encourage all of you to join me in supporting this legislation.
Mayor of Hartford
Hartford, Conn. (March 21, 2016) – Mayor Luke Bronin today announced that Brett Broesder has been named Director of Communications and New Media for the City of Hartford, Conn. In this role, Broesder will serve as the primary media contact and spokesperson for the capital city. He is replacing Samaia Hernandez, who is pursuing new opportunities.
“I’m thrilled to have Brett on our team,” said Mayor Bronin. “With his wide-ranging experience in communications and policy, he is sure to be an asset to Hartford as we right our fiscal ship and move the city toward a more prosperous future.”
Broesder joins the City of Hartford with more than a decade of communications experience. Most recently, he served as the communications director for the City of Bridgeport, Conn.
Previously, Broesder served in a vast array of senior level communications roles, including: direct mail consultant for The Baughman Company; Communications Director for the Montana Democratic Party; media relations specialist for global communications firm Hill & Knowlton, as well as Ketchum; Policy and Legislative Director for Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin; and Campaign Manager for Peter Kilmartin’s successful Rhode Island Attorney General Campaign in 2010. Broesder holds a B.A. in political science from Rhode Island College.
“I’m honored to join Mayor Bronin and his team,” said Broesder. “It’s an exciting time in the state’s capital city. I look forward to working with folks across the city to share Hartford’s story.”
(March 15, 2016) Today, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin urged city residents to take advantage of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which provides free tax preparation services to individuals and families earning up to $54,000 per year. There are 10 VITA sites in Hartford where 300 IRS-certified volunteers help eligible clients prepare and electronically file state and federal income tax forms.
“Millions in refunds are left unclaimed each year,” Mayor Bronin said. “With April deadlines around the corner, now is the time for citizens and families to take advantage of this valuable resource. I urge eligible residents to call 2-1-1 and set up an appointment with a certified VITA volunteer before April 15th.”
Approximately 58,000 taxpayers have filed returns at Hartford VITA sites since 2005. Last year, nearly 8,000 taxpayers were assisted in Hartford, resulting in $18.6 million in state and federal refunds for local individuals and families. Overall, tax filings have increased by more than 600 percent at Hartford sites since 2005.
Residents are encouraged to call 2-1-1 and press “3” to make an appointment at one of the tax centers. Filers with incomes up to $62,000 may prepare and file their own taxes for free online at: www.myfreetaxes.com. Online assistance is available.
The VITA centers are made possible through a partnership between The Village for Families & Children and the United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut and are supported by the City of Hartford.
Centers are open through April 18.