On a hot day in the middle of July, more people came out to vote against paying more in taxes than those coming out to vote in favor of paying more in taxes.
No surprise there.
In fact, Wednesday’s referendum on Meriden’s budget was not much more than a formality. Once enough signatures had been gathered to force the referendum, the signal to elected officials was clear: Time for the City Council to go back to the drawing board and rework a budget.
You could say it was a repudiation of the council’s Democratic majority — several minority councilors had supported the referendum — and the type of strong-arm tactics that led to the dismissal of City Manager Guy Scaife not long after the council had given him a positive performance review.
Perhaps some of that came into play, but the greater likelihood is that it came down to a simple declaration: Enough is enough.
Enough as in people already feel they’re paying enough. “I don’t want the taxes to go up. They are high enough. They are too high.” So said resident Sue Friend, reflecting the sentiments portrayed by the 5,999 residents who voted against the budget by voting “yes” to reject it and the 4.66 percent tax increase it called for.
“I’m happy for everybody that helped me out and I’m really proud that the taxpayers in Meriden heard what I was doing and did what was right for them,” said Michael Carabetta, who had started the grassroots effort that led to the repudiation of the council’s budget. “It’s really empowering and I’m excited for what this does for the future.”
The future might not be so exciting, of course. The council will have to start taking a hard look at spending. “It’s a matter of what services are going to get cut and how deeply ...” said City Council Majority Leader David Lowell.
So the hard work has just begun. Perhaps once residents see what is going to be lost they’ll change their minds about increased taxes. I’ve been wondering about the 260 votes in favor of keeping the budget, as in, why would you vote to pay more in taxes? One explanation, or at least part of an explanation, is that you don’t want to see services cut. But the vote shows that at least for the moment people are willing to test the waters when it comes to services — it’s a rebellion against the attitude that services are always desirable and always going to mean increasing costs. Determining what people are willing to live without is now the task of elected representatives.
Last week I suggested that the outcome of the referendum vote in Meriden would deliver a message to those seeking to represent residents at the state level in November. I don’t know if there’s a clearer illustration of the public’s appetite, or lack thereof, for spending.
There remains a disconnect in Hartford over the anxiety people feel about the state’s future. On the same Record-Journal front page that ran the story about the rejection of a municipal budget was a report on State Comptroller Kevin P. Lembo’s opposition to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s plan to borrow $10 million to fund an analysis of electronic tolling. Lembo said the decision “should be left to the next governor and legislature.” The top Republicans in the House also urged that spending for a tolls study should be left to the next governor and General Assembly.
Making it an election issue prompts people to get involved. As Meriden demonstrated this week, the more that happens the more reason for being hopeful for the future.
Reach Jeffery Kurz at 202-317-2213, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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