Improving city must not be neglected by state

All the numbers seem to show that New Haven is getting better and better.

Pfizer and IKEA are moving to town, bringing with them the new jobs and millions of dollars that many hope will give a needed boost to the city’s economy. Campus crime fell by 16 percent this year, continuing a decade-long decline, and city crime and school dropout rates dipped as well. By most indications, this is a once-struggling town on the mend.

In his State of the City address last week, though, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said the progress could reverse itself with misguided state fiscal policy, and he pointed his finger toward Hartford. Two days after his guardedly optimistic speech, DeStefano joined Democratic mayors from around Connecticut in criticizing state legislators for slashing aid to cities. This past month, the mayors say, has seen a bipartisan dig at Connecticut’s urban centers beginning with Gov. John Rowland’s 5 percent, across-the board cut in many municipal aid programs and capped off with a proposed $37.5 million cut put forth by Democratic legislators.

Facing a $650 million budget shortfall, it is not unreasonable to expect cities to bear part of the burden of the state’s budget balancing act. Connecticut is not the only state faced with a hefty deficit during its legislative session, and Gov. Rowland is not the only official to ask municipalities to give a little in these frequently lamented hard economic times. But coming from an administration with a habit of neglecting cities, Rowland’s proposed tax cuts for the wealthy make his programmatic cuts in municipal aid a more difficult plan for local legislators to accept.

Something clearly has to give — something in addition to Connecticut’s cities. New Haven has made tremendous progress on its own over the last decade, reducing crime through increased policing efforts, and reducing poverty by building affordable housing, bringing in jobs, and emphasizing education. But the steady progress that bumped New Haven out of the top 10 worst American cities would not have been possible without considerable support from the legislators in Hartford.

Beyond what New Haven raises through property taxes and what it receives through limited federal aid, all of the money that pays for more teachers, firemen and police officers comes from the state’s coffers. DeStefano predicted 250 layoffs in New Haven as a result of Rowland’s 5 percent cut alone and said city programs and funding for police, housing and education will suffer seriously from further cuts. Increasing tax breaks that primarily benefit the suburbs would likely undercut much of the work on the better end of a decades-long effort to make Yale and New Haven safer and more stable.

This city needs more than Swedish furniture and hospital beds to maintain the momentum that keeps it ambling forward each year. Now may be the time for tightening belts, but the state’s balanced budget should not come at the absolute expense of the city.

Comments

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