To no one’s surprise, Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland Wednesday unveiled a state budget plan for the next two years that includes massive cuts in municipal aid and broad tax increases aimed at overcoming a $900 billion state deficit. Not unexpected and perhaps inevitable, the budget is still a disappointment, particularly because of its implications for cities and schools.
It seems that at long last those intangible billion-dollar boom-time tax cuts from the past two years have resolved themselves into thousands of dollars of real cutbacks, now that the economy has taken a turn for the worse. Passed down from federal to state to city legislatures, the cuts are leading to layoffs and dents in funding for education and social services. And Connecticut is no exception, with Rowland’s suburb-friendly budget plan balanced on the backs of the state’s cities.
Even New Haven, with tax-exempt Yale as its second-largest employer and precarious philanthropist, will feel the pinch. Consider the prospects for Bridgeport and Hartford, which do not have financially stable monoliths in the center of their downtowns.
On Monday, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. announced 110 layoffs in New Haven’s school system effective July 1, and presented a budget that includes a substantial hike in property taxes. He predicted another 250 layoffs if negotiators are unable to secure $5.5 million in concessions from the city employees’ union and anticipated spending cuts will put a significant dent in funding for city libraries, parks and recreation programs, and traffic and parking initiatives.
But the biggest concern should be city schools, which will lose 50 teachers, 50 other school workers, and 10 administrators by next fall. Among Rowland’s remedies for the state budget woes is a regrettable 3 percent reduction to the grant that provides state money for public schools. Classrooms are already overcrowded; teachers and administrators are already overburdened. The public school spokesman said schools are already understaffed but the nonpersonnel budget has been trimmed as much as possible. Layoffs in the school system may be unavoidable because of the state budget plan, but the effect this will have on already struggling public schools is especially unfortunate.
Calling the state budget “out of control,” DeStefano faulted legislators in Hartford for years of negligence that have led up to the drops in the state aid that accounts for over half of the city’s budget and provides almost all of the financial support for city programs. Indeed, these cuts reflect several lapses in long-term planning by state and federal politicians, who have passed excessive and misdirected tax cuts over the last few years — or perhaps it reflects the absence of such planning altogether.
Yet at the annual winter meeting of the National Governors Association last month, President Bush said he has no intention of providing assistance to states struggling with perhaps the worst financial problems since World War II. He will meet with mayors, including DeStefano, next. But the damage, it seems, is already done.