By Stephen Knight
Back on February 7th, I wrote a column in which I described Connecticut’s cities quite uncharitably as “ten-mile-deep money pits.” A reader took me to task for that remark, and I admit that it was an exaggeration, born of the frustration that it seems that, no matter how much money is sent by state government to these distressed municipalities, the results always seem to be the same.
I do indeed understand that our cities are in desperate shape, and, as a native of Waterbury, I do understand that deindustrialization has been the primary cause of their critical economic decline. And there is every good reason to tilt the table and provide more funding per person to these cities than is necessary for communities like Wallingford.
But in the past few years, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin has lamented that the suburban communities do not pay their “fair share” to support Connecticut’s cities. State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney has proposed a statewide one-mill property tax, the proceeds of which are to be sent to cities such as his New Haven. There is a progressive proposal to reduce a local municipality’s ability to control its zoning regulations, with the ugly, disparaging insinuation being that local zoning regulations are designed to keep minority citizens from locating in suburban communities.
So when will the legislators making these proposals consider that those of us outside the twenty-five Distressed Municipalities have finally paid our fair share? Let’s take a look at Governor Lamont’s proposed budget. I am going to use my hometown of Waterbury and compare that with Wallingford:
In the proposed state budget, Waterbury is set to receive a total of $175,809,013 in municipal aid. Wallingford will receive $21,950,419. Now Waterbury’s population is 108,276 and Wallingford’s is 44,326 (some of these numbers are from different years, but the comparisons are still valid for this discussion). The population disparities certainly should account for much of the difference, until you calculate state aid per capita. State aid for Waterbury is $1,624 per person. State aid for Wallingford is $495. That’s an over 300% difference.
Waterbury is to receive $3.3 million in Municipal Revenue Sharing, whatever that is. Wallingford is to receive $0. Waterbury receives $2.6 million of the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan Fund Grant. Wallingford will receive $33 thousand.
The Education Cost Sharing from the state is where the big bucks are spent. Waterbury will receive $150 million, or $8,004 per student. Wallingford will receive $21 million, or $3,636 per student, or, put another way, less than half of what Waterbury is to receive.
Please forgive me for throwing all these figures around, but we need to know these when we determine the legitimacy of the charges that the cities are shortchanged and that we suburbanites are uncaring and stingy. If there were any possible indication that these huge differences in state aid resulted in healthier and safer cities or more successful students, I believe there would very few of us that would protest the inequity.
That’s the rub. Suburban communities such as Wallingford are much, much more reliant on financing their municipal services by themselves, and still the Martin Looneys and Luke Bronins not only complain that Connecticut’s towns aren’t contributing enough, but also never, ever look to see why the cities they lead can’t ever seem to make ends meet.
I truly lament that the vibrant, safe and successful Waterbury of my youth is no longer. And the State of Connecticut will be a much more successful state if the money sent annually to Waterbury and other cities can somehow have a positive impact. So far, that is just not so. Would it be so unfair to ask why?
Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.