Andy Conroy is the Republican-endorsed candidate for Mayor of Norwalk.
In the past week, Mayor Harry Rilling on two separate occasions chose to stand with Governor Dannel Malloy and Hartford Democrats and against Norwalk taxpayers and families trying to make ends meet.
Norwalk has been threatened with serious funding cuts as the state’s budget crisis drags on, but Mayor Rilling called for the governor to veto the bipartisan budget that passed the General Assembly. Now, Governor Malloy has just followed through on that threat.
Crafted by the Republican caucus but passed with some Democrats in support, that budget would have retained Norwalk’s current levels of funding for its school system, its special education classes, and several programs for low-income families. It would have done so even as Connecticut is mired in a historic fiscal crisis with no end in sight.
Yet the mayor, instead of being a voice for fiscal sanity and making Norwalk’s funding his paramount priority, gets on board with the governor’s veto. I, for one, cannot understand a Norwalk mayor accepting such a poor outcome for the people of Norwalk.
Why would he reject a budget that protects Norwalk’s finances during a fiscal crisis? There seems no other explanation other than pure, unadulterated partisan politics.
So, now, Norwalk stands to lose $4 million in town funding and education aid. The legislature’s budget would have stopped all of that from happening and held our city harmless — all without raising taxes.
Many mayors in Connecticut, regardless of party affiliation, had rejoiced at the achievement of a budget that avoided cuts to aid to their towns without raising taxes. The Connecticut Council of Municipalities and the Council of Small Towns, which represent the best interests of town budgets, both endorsed this budget, as did numerous other civic organizations. Despite this, Mayor Rilling joined the partisan parade advocating for a veto.
All Rilling needed to know was that the budget was put together by Republicans and that Governor Malloy, a fellow Democrat, opposes it. Never mind that it also attracted support from three Democrats in the State Senate and five in the House.
He and another Malloy loyalist, Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (also a Norwalker, remarkably enough), this week came together at two press conferences where they blasted the bipartisan budget. To attempt to justify their position, they cited proposals for modest reductions in state’s higher education system, and a requirement for teachers to contribute an extra 2% towards their pensions over two years.
We have only to look at the other budgets that failed to pass the legislature to see how much worse things potentially could be for Norwalk. The governor’s own budget proposal would have entailed large cuts in revenue sharing with municipalities, cuts in education funding, in special education funding, in Care4Kids funding, in MealsOnWheel funding, and a host of similar programs that serve our state’s most vulnerable citizens – all of which were protected in the Republican budget. In return, Connecticut residents would have been hit with more taxes in a dozen different ways, including a new tax on cell phone bills. Local property taxes would need to be increased to pay for teacher pension costs that Malloy wants to offload to the municipalities.
In sum, the mayor has demonstrated a stunning lack of regard for Norwalk’s finances. He cannot hide behind his ostentatious support for teachers and Norwalk Community College, because with the General Assembly’s budget dead, things will likely be worse for all of Norwalk and especially our school system.
A budget crisis manufactured in Hartford is no time to play politics with Norwalk’s well-being.