By Peter I. Berman
NORWALK, Conn. – Like a previous OpEd published by Democratic mayoral candidate Matt Miklave on Performance Based Budgeting the current one on development accelerators sounds promising but without experience in either activity readers may be doubtful of such bold promises. Mr. Miklave is selective in his reading of both the PBB and municipal development economic literature. And he under appreciates the crucial importance of Norwalk’s disadvantage in attracting new business development owing to its much higher property taxes funding excessive municipal salaries, e.g. fifth highest teacher salaries in Connecticut.
No amount of “blue sky” lofty proposals can overcome Norwalk’s tax disadvantage. Mr. Miklave would do well to compare grand lists between Norwalk and Stamford over the past decade. Stamford has leaped ahead. Mr. Miklave would do well to read the arbitration panel’s report identifying much higher property taxes as responsible for Norwalk’s declining property values. While property values are increasing in most communities Norwalk is at best stagnant.
To mount a credible platform candidates need address Norwalk’s long standing number one challenge – punitive property taxes funding excessive municipal salaries. Given his career experience as a labor attorney in a decade as a Common Council member Mr. Miklave is part of the team that put Norwalk out in front in terms of taxes and employee salaries. So its not surprising that he has ignored our budget primary challenge. Indeed, Mr. Miklave seems the candidate least likely to address our tax and employee compensation challenge. The old adage applies perhaps – those who helped make the problem are unlikely to find the solution.
Mr. Miklave needs to familiarize himself with the ambitious attempts by his fellow Democrat – Governor Malloy – to rejuvenate Connecticut’s faltering economy with bold development initiatives without desired success. Encouraging a healthy local environment is not rocket science. But it does require an understanding that having a comparative disadvantage in taxes remains a major disincentive towards economic development.
At day’s end Mr. Miklave has yet to put forth a reasonable platform to address Norwalk’s main policy issue – higher property taxes needed to fund among the very highest municipal salaries in the state. It’s not a new issue for Norwalk. Both Democrats and Republicans are responsible. But if a candidate doesn’t address this pivotal issue early in the campaign we know the ultimate response.
Simply put Mr. Miklave has yet to offer a comprehensive program that will reduce the number of “for sale” signs proliferating throughout our city as citizens vote with their feet. Norwalk property owners collectively are forgoing billions of dollars in property appreciation owing to excessive property taxes financing excessive salaries.
Let’s encourage Mr. Miklave to drive around the neighboring communities and then ask the question: why are there so many “for sale” signs in Norwalk. Everyone knows the answer it seems save the four mayoral candidates. We expect better. Especially from candidates who hope to win.
It’s hard to recall having four candidates for mayor so out of touch with the real bread and butter issues affecting our citizens. Based on their “issues agenda” the smart money has Mayor Moccia earning a fifth term quite handsomely. Norwalk Democrats seem likely to maintain their unofficial designation as “out of touch.”
Peter I. Berman
Former senior policy advisor in Gov. John Rowland’s campaign