It should come as no surprise that, in some ways, Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra’s proposed FY2013-2014 Budget is a case study in what is wrong with government. What may be surprising, however, is that the document also offers very real solutions to some of those problems.
The $543.9 million budget, as reported by the Hartford Courant, represents a minor increase in spending from the FY2012-2013 budget. Ironically, a minor increase in government spending is often perceived as an ostensible gouging of essential services.
The Segarra budget will likely be received in this manner. Critics will point to the 3.3 and 0.8 percent cuts from Hartford fire and emergency services, respectively, as a threat to public safety.
They will argue that the hiring freeze on more than 100 vacant positions will slow city government to a lethargic crawl.
And, perhaps accurately, they will state that tapping the rainy day fund for approximately $13.5 million for deficit reduction is fiscally irresponsible.
But in typical fashion, each of these criticisms will miss the mark. With close to $70 million in deficit, the city of Hartford should be cutting departmental funding, eliminating non-essential (and unfilled) positions, and attempting to mitigate future debt.
The real problem with this budget is that it does not go far enough in contesting and eliminating the biggest issues in state and local government. These systemic problems will proceed unchallenged.
These flaws include the fact that, in order to achieve a balanced budget, Segarra has proposed delaying payment on $13 million of the $37 million owed to the city employee pension fund. While this plan may be somewhat irresponsible, the greater problem is the extravagant amount of money the city must pay into employee pensions. Pension reform, therefore, is necessary.
Similarly, Segarra has suggested that the city “civilianize” various uniformed police divisions due to the fact that “generous union contracts” mean uniformed officers cost far more than non-uniformed workers. While this solution may seem like common sense, what is more puzzling is why unionized workers receive greater pay and benefits. The influence of public employee unions, therefore, should be reevaluated.
And finally, the fact that the proposal draws more than $13 million dollars from an approximately $26 million “rainy day fund” raises one important question in this radical writer’s mind: Why does the city have such a large amount of the taxpayer’s money in its possession? The whole bloated system, from taxation to services, should receive greater scrutiny.
These truly substantive reforms, although they would be effective and lasting, and very unlikely to be undertaken. Even if Pedro Segarra sought such real changes (which his record suggests he would not), the backlash would be swift and fierce.
For many, the current status quo obstructs the view of the future, even when it is a future of repeated budget trouble, increasing city and state debt, and out-of-control government expansion. The Segarra budget surprised me with its aim, but utterly failed to challenge these real issues.