OPINION: In Meriden, yes will mean no

OPINION: In Meriden, yes will mean no

Summertime and the livin’ is easy. Kids are home from school, the beach beckons and otherwise … it’s hot. Hardly a good time to be dealing with politics. But even summer calls on citizens to do their diligence.

Of course, that doesn’t always work out so well, and decisions left to summer can turn out to be decisions left to the few.

In any case, this time around there are August primaries and, of impending interest, a referendum in Meriden.

The referendum might turn out to be as strong a bellwether of what’s to come in November.

The referendum, set for Wednesday, July 18, asks Meriden residents to reject the $197.9 million spending plan approved by the City Council in May. The budget means a tax increase, of 4.66 percent, which means roughly an extra $200 in taxes for the average Meriden homeowner.

I’ve scratched my head over a few referendum questions over the years – sometimes they can seem on the crafty side – and while this one is straightforward it has its challenges:

“Shall the 2018/19 budget be rejected?”

You don’t usually think of a “yes” answer as rejecting something, but in this case yes means no. A yes vote says, yes, reject it.

All you need is more than half of the voters in the last municipal election turnout, in this case 4,111 votes, to say yes.

My guess is that the referendum vote will pass, which means yes will mean no and that the budget plan will fail, and that the City Council will be sent back to the drawing board to come up with a new budget. That’s based on motivation: if you want to reject the budget, reject a tax increase, you’re likely to be more motivated to vote than otherwise — as in, how many can you reasonably expect to turn out to support an increase in their taxes?

That reasoning could prove wrongheaded, of course, but I doubt it. The 2,779 signatures that forced the vote are indication enough of the motivation behind rejection. So are the number of people who showed up at a recent council meeting, when the date for the referendum was set.

“You guys need to work together to figure this out and be fair to the taxpayers,” said Michael Carabetta, who started the petition drive.

It may be as simple as that: just an organized movement of residents who don’t want to pay more in taxes. But consider that this is the first time since the City Charter set up the possibility that a referendum has been forced. As Republican Councilor Dan Brunet, who signed the referendum petition, noted, “it’s an opportunity for the public to have a vote on the situation, not just merely city councilors.”

That’s right, but it’s also a performance review. You vote for your representative every two years, but a referendum is a chance to weigh in midway.

In that context a rejection can be seen as more than a judgment about a particular tax increase, but also a judgment about the way things are getting done in government, not just in Meriden but in Hartford and beyond. Those seeking election to represent  Connecticut residents in November would do well to pay attention to what takes place in Meriden on Wednesday.

Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203031702213, or jkurz@record-journal.com.





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