Courtesy of Karen Lin

New Haven’s budget crisis has dominated local political discourse this year, as city politicians and residents deliberated on Yale’s responsibility to help resolve it.

New Haven currently faces a $66 million projected deficit, which forced Mayor Justin Elicker to present two proposed budgets to the Board of Alders in March: a “Crisis Budget” that would cut various services and implement a tax hike, and a “Forward Together Budget” that would require an extra $53 million from the state or Yale to maintain existing programs. This week, the Board of Alders passed an amended version of the “Forward Together Budget” on the assumption that the Elm City would receive these funds.

“We’re having positive conversations with the University, and I’m cautiously optimistic that those conversations will lead to something,” Elicker told the News. “I am optimistic that we will be able to land closer to the ‘Forward Together Budget’ and not need to make some of the dramatic cuts and suffer the significant tax increase in the ‘Crisis Budget.’”

The Elm City is forecasted to receive around $49 million from the state this summer from the new tiered Payment in Lieu of Taxes program, which prioritizes funding for municipalities like New Haven with high proportions of tax-exempt property.

That leaves a $4 million gap for the city to reach the $53 million required to avoid all cuts and implement the “Forward Together Budget.” This year, Yale gave a $13 million direct contribution to the city, and it’s not yet clear whether that will rise to $17 million. In an interview with the News this past fall, University President Peter Salovey stressed that Yale already pays more to New Haven than peer institutions pay to their cities.

“We are number one in the country in the size of the voluntary payment we make to our host city. We are number one,” Salovey told the News. “And I’m not saying we can’t do more. But what I am saying is these budget problems are structural and deep. And they need to be solved in a far more complex way, in a far more sustainable way than just the University every year having to write a bigger and bigger check.”

But many New Haveners disagree, and city residents have protested the size of Yale’s contribution to the city all year.

Some of the commentary occurred at the Board of Alders Finance Committee public budget hearings, in which city residents submitted and read testimony on how a more significant contribution from Yale could address serious problems in the Elm City.

“I love the Edgewood neighborhood where I live,” New Haven resident Joelle Fishman said in her testimony. “Neighbors have looked out for each other with food supplies, snow shoveling, and all kinds of mutual aid. And we should expect no less from our largest neighbor and employer, Yale University, and Yale New Haven Hospital. That’s why I join with my neighbors in every part of New Haven to send a loud and clear message that it’s not okay to hoard millions and expect families like mine to pick up their tab so the city can function.”

More recently, labor activists have led protests demanding that Yale “Respect New Haven.” This month, they painted a “YALE: RESPECT NEW HAVEN” mural on the street in front of Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall on Prospect Street. 

On the bike lane, the activists painted a 670-foot blue line stretching from Grove Street to Trumbull Street, representing Yale’s $31.2 billion endowment. Meanwhile, Yale’s $13 million annual voluntary contribution — an amount labor organizers call a “drop in the bucket” — was represented by a red stripe just a few inches wide.

“Today is not just about union workers — it’s about every citizen of New Haven,” Ward 8 Alder Ellen Cupo said at the event. “It’s about Yale respecting the people who live here and reinvesting into the city in a real way, in a monetary way.”

University officials held that Yale not paying more to the city is about its “obligations” to future generations of Yalies.

“This is as much as we can responsibly spend without unfairly taking from those who will come after us,” said University spokesperson Karen Peart in a statement to the News this past fall. “The strength we are experiencing derives from the generosity and care of those who came before us, and we have similar obligations to the future students, faculty, and staff of this university.”

But Elicker told the News this fall that Yale’s $4.2 billion operational budget means it has $330,000 to spend on each student, while New Haven’s budget means it has $4,600 to spend on each resident. “We want the University to be successful,” Elicker said. “But something is just not right.”

The fiscal year 2021-2022 budget will go into effect on July 1.

Owen Tucker-Smith |

Owen Tucker-Smith was managing editor of the Board of 2023. Before that, he covered the mayor as a City Hall reporter.