Faced with state budget cuts that he said would hurt New Haven’s ability to pay for basic social services, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. went public in February, using several addresses to push the state to find another way to balance its books.

Last night the mayor continued to call for changes in state financing, but he did it in a cozier climate: before about 18 people in the Dwight Hall common room.

Co-sponsored by the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project and the Yale College Democrats, the event kicked off Hunger Awareness Week at Yale.

The mayor addressed a variety of issues, ranging from affordable housing and homelessness to the state’s current fiscal crisis.

DeStefano set up his more concrete proposals with an abstract discussion of the nature of democracy. He said democracy is not a contract between the government and the people; rather, it is a agreement between people based on a set of values that allows individual enrichment.

The mayor moved from there to the need to protect the benefits of the impoverished and unfortunate. He said Connecticut is not well-organized to help the needy, and cited the current tax structure as a chief obstacle to proper funding for social programs, especially in education.

DeStefano said the city’s $350 million operating budget for the 2002-2003 fiscal year would constitute a 2.5 percent increase over this year. The mayor said his problem is generating enough revenue to cover that increase, and he added that the only way for the city to raise revenue is to increase property taxes.

The tax system as it currently exists is “set up to fail,” DeStefano said.

This dilemma leads to serious problems when trying to fund important social programs, he said. The mayor listed cutting librarian and firefighter jobs as some of the conundrums that occur during the political process of balancing the books.

DeStefano also said that one of his administration’s chief goals is to change the tax structure within the state. For his part, the mayor said he wants to create political ties and open the political process between the different levels of government.

One audience member asked DeStefano what she could do to be more effective politically. He responded by asking her to think of herself as being powerful when connected to other campuses, particularly within the state.

Students can be politically powerful groups when united, visible, focused and active, DeStefano said.