Everyone you talk to these days has an idea or a solution for Hartford's budget mess. Where have they been for the last 15 or 20 years?
It just seems sad that we finally have a Mayor ( and maybe a City Council) with the ability to lead , only to see them being sucked into the City Hall quicksand pit. It must seem like an almost impossible task for Mayor Luke Bronin to grab that branch at the edge of the pit to pull himself out.
The unions won't throw him a lifeline, the Connecticut legislature is counting the minutes until he goes under, even Bronin's former boss and mentor Governor Dannel Malloy is grasping for a branch at the edge of a much larger quicksand pit of his own.
So if Mayor Bronin is lucky enough to grab that branch and pull himself out, where do we go? Back to the beginning is probably a good start. The legislative solution should be the last resort. We all know that politicians, especially on the State level , get elected through Union support. They provide donors and money. They provide free labor in the form of volunteers for phone banking, door knocking and getting out the election day vote. No politician in their right mind will take on a bill to chop the Unions off at the knees.
I think that was more hype and propaganda , rather than reality, but the Union's stormed the Capitol I'm force this week and sent a clear message to legislators. "If you like your jobs, then don't mess with ours". Misinformation can do wonders when you have an agenda to move forward..
But on the flip side of that coin, Hartford's Unions can not and should not be made out to be the bad guys. Hartford's Unions , whether it be Police, Fire or City Hall workers through HMEA ,or DPW through 1716 can not set their own collective bargaining agreements. They are negotiated by the both the Unions and the City and ultimately approved by a vote of the City Council.
The benefits and pensions being paid out now were approved by those same politicians that now seem to have been caught off guard by the liabilities and wonder how this ever happened.
Hartford's Unions definitely need to be part of the potential solution, but can not be the entire solution. Do we need to look at benefits and bring them into line with both the City's sustainable future budget requirements. Absolutely. But there is so much more that we need to look at. Bringing fiscal responsibility back to Hartford Government is a necessity for our survival . I think Luke Bronin has the capacity to make that happen, along with the team he is surrounding himself with, but I think he needs to invite a few more players to the table.
Say what you want about our City Treasurer , but I think he has a vital role to play in getting us back on a sustainable foundation. Some of the suggestions on behalf of Hartford's Pension Commission can really mean the difference between turning this ship around or continuing toward the iceberg, full steam ahead.
As an example, Hartford's Batterson Park, located in Farmington, is a non-producing asset which could be developed into a constant revenue generator with potential money returned to both the Pension fund and the General Fund. Apparently there are no deed restrictions that prohibit a development use for the parcel.
No one solution is going to be the magic bullet for Hartford's problem, but by keeping an open mind and listening to all ideas, the fiscal fix might just be in reach and not require the Legislatures help or approval.
But all ideas need to be treated with respect and the attention to run them down and find options that just might work. Time is critical, but we shouldn't rush into options that just bog us down in more criticism and unproductive rhetoric. Sit Hartford's Unions down and close the door and hammer out productive arrangements. We don't need the legislature to mandate that..Put out an RFP for developers for Batterson Park and start moving on that. The list could go on and on, but we need to start and be willing to trust ourselves to get it done
The voters trusted in Hartford's elected officials when they filled in the bubbles on their ballots on Election Day and now Hartford's elected officials need to show that they are worthy of that trust by rising to the occasion and making the difficult decisions we know they can make to return Hartford to a solid footing.
Educate the public as to what is going on and what the desired results are that we hope for. Put an end to the misinformation and rumors. Reassure retirees that served the City of Hartford faithfully over the years that their pensions are safe. We must reassure current employees that the steps that are being taken now are to ensure that their pensions will still be viable after they complete their service to our City.
If Hartford's Union's are treated with respect and are valued as part of the solution , the thoughts of "Union busting" should be laid to rest. History has shown that level of respect has not always been there. Remember a few short years ago when all of the bargaining units were called in to be part of a budget solution. They gave back with furlough days and concessions, only to see a $20,000 raise given to Mayor Segarra's Chief of Staff at the time. That hardly built any confidence in City Hall and that is still remembered by many at this time.
But first and foremost, we need to appreciate the efforts of our Mayor and his team he has assembled and the impossible task they accepted. If nothing else, they have had the courage to tackle the issues that previous administrations have ignored for years. We may not agree , or even support everything they are doing, but at least they are doing it. This needs to be a total team effort, and we need to have confidence that good will prevail and the egos will be set aside for the betterment of our City.
There is also quite a bit of useful information at Hartford.gov on the Treasurer's page that I just found tonight, scroll down to the bottom of the page to "Our latest News" there are some interesting documents and information there http://treasurer.hartford.gov/
To read Treasurer's Cloud testimony before the Legislature's Finance Committee , click here: