Photo: Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticut Media
The budget debates in a city like Bridgeport are so familiar as to be predictable. Everyone agrees taxes are too high. The school system desperately needs resources. City services are in danger of major cuts. The industrial tax base has collapsed.
And nearly everyone involved in those debates would very much like to be re-elected in the near term.
So it’s easy to say that what’s happening in Bridgeport has been repeating itself every year for as long as anyone can remember. It is likely to happen again.
That doesn’t make the situation any less serious.
It’s true that the schools will always say they need more money, but the situation faced by the state’s largest education system is dire. Schools are in danger of closing. Administrator positions (which, contrary to public opinion, are necessary to a functioning system) could be drastically cut. The district’s chief financial officer has called the situation a fiscal emergency.
Again, these are familiar complaints. But there’s little that’s more important in a city than educating children, and in a chronically underfunded system, where many students are from disadvantaged backgrounds, the needs are that much greater. There’s only so much that can be cut.
The complaints from taxpayers are similarly familiar, and just as serious. Bridgeport has high taxes. This is because it has many needs and its tax base is a shell of its former self, leading to a higher burden on residential property owners. The system Connecticut relies on to fund its government is unfair and outdated, but is not going to change anytime soon.
Then there’s the election angle. Mayor Joe Ganim is running for another term this fall. He has kept taxes flat, other than an increase early in his term that came from a revaluation and that Ganim managed to blame entirely on his predecessor.
Now Ganim wants a tax cut on which to base his next campaign. He had sought a $4.5 million break that would average out to a bit more than $100 per homeowner. That’s not nothing, but is also hardly enough to build a future around.
The City Council, instead, passed a smaller tax cut that provides somewhat more money to the school system than Ganim had planned, while still coming in far below what the system’s leaders say is needed to maintain basic functions.
The mayor has the authority to veto the budget or individual line items. He can have his tax cut and run for another term on a record of saving money for local voters.
But that savings would come at a tremendous price. The school system needs money. There’s still uncertainty about what will happen in terms of state funding, on which the system overwhelmingly depends, but the city needs to do more.
The mayor should forget his tax cut. He should put the money toward education, where it is most needed. It won’t be enough, but it’s the right course of action, which should count more than a re-election bid.