— NEWS AND COMMUNITY STATEMENT —
(March 14, 2016) Today, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin delivered his 2016 State of the City address at Hartford City Hall. Below are Mayor Bronin’s full remarks as prepared.
Council President Clarke, Members of the Court of Common Council, Treasurer Cloud, Members of Hartford’s Delegation to the General Assembly.
Thank you for your service to our city. It’s a privilege to work in partnership with you.
To the citizens of the City of Hartford, thank you for allowing me to serve you as your Mayor.
To our local businesses, small and large, to our non-profit partners, to our faith-based leaders and community volunteers — thank you for your commitment to our great city.
And to the hardworking employees in every city department, thank you for everything you do, every day, for the people of Hartford. I’m proud to work alongside you.
Finally, to my wife Sara and our three children, thank you and I love you.
Our city is the economic and cultural heart of this region.
It is the capital city, home to cultural institutions that outshine cities much larger than ours. Home to a business community that includes world-class, global companies, and small, creative local entrepreneurs.
Home to residents who work so hard, who serve their community and who persevere.
One Hartford, diverse, resilient. With a downtown that is increasingly vibrant. With distinct neighborhoods that remain the true soul of Hartford. With magnificent architecture and parks, a legacy of our proud history.
And so, I can with confidence report that the state of our city can and will be strong — if we face our challenges honestly, with clear vision and with an unflinching willingness to do the difficult things those challenges demand.
I stand here as a new mayor. You have put your faith and trust in me, and in this new city council, to lead our city forward. I will honor that trust by being forthright with you, always.
And so I must also report, as directly and as plainly as I can, that while our city is strong, the state of our financial condition is dire.
We are in a state of fiscal emergency. How did we get here? Part of the answer is that, for too long, Hartford failed to make tough choices.
Past administrations borrowed liberally. To make things easier in the short-run, they refinanced debt, pushing payments into the future. The bill is now coming due.
This year, the amount we will pay for debt service — the equivalent of mortgage payments on a home — was $10 million. Next year, it will be close to $30 million. By 2019, it will be nearly $50 million. That’s if we don’t borrow another dollar, which isn’t realistic.
Past administrations promised benefits that Hartford’s tax base cannot support.
Our annual contributions to the pension fund have gone from under $10 million in 2010 to more than $40 million this year and next. And our healthcare costs rise dramatically year after year.
The City of Hartford administers more than sixty different health insurance plans for retirees, a costly burden that defies logic, but is required by past negotiations.
When some employees leave service, they receive six figure payouts of sick and vacation time. And when some employees retire today, they retire with annual pensions that far exceed their base pay.
I don’t say this to disparage our hardworking city employees, who earned their benefits under the contracts they negotiated. I believe that those who serve the public deserve good benefits and a safe retirement.
But the reality is that for too long, the City of Hartford made promises that are not sustainable.
And, of course, past administrations raised taxes. Again and again. Today, Hartford’s small businesses pay the highest taxes in the state, more than twice what they’d pay in most neighboring towns.
Those tax increases raised money in the short term, but they drove businesses out and made it harder and harder for Hartford to grow.
Facing big deficits, past administrations bought time with one-time revenues — selling parking garages, raiding employee benefit reserves.
If you look at the budgets of the last few years and take out the one-time revenues, our city has been running tens of millions of dollars in deficit year after year.
Today, we are in a full-blown crisis and we cannot avoid it, we cannot ignore it, and we cannot solve it unless we all make very difficult, very painful decisions.
On June 30th, we will finish this fiscal year millions of dollars in deficit, and will draw down nearly half of the city’s reserves.
This year’s problem is small in comparison to next year’s problem — and the years beyond. Without painful changes, we will soon face deficits so big that even eliminating our entire police department and our entire fire department would not close the gap.
We’re like a household that’s taken out a second mortgage, maxed out the credit cards, and borrowed money from family and friends to keep up with the payments.
While we made some changes in the household budget, we didn’t make enough. As long as our expenses are higher than our income, the problem will get worse.
In years past, we might have hoped for relief from the State of Connecticut. Today, the State of Connecticut faces its own crisis, and the best we can probably hope for is to avoid getting cut.
We can’t expect any bailouts from the State. What can we expect?
There must be cuts in services and there will be layoffs. Difficult cuts that no one wants to make, and that in better times we wouldn’t even contemplate. Cuts in services that are important. Not cutting fat, but sacrificing things that matter.
There must be significant changes in labor contracts even with those layoffs, because we have no choice.
We must consider decreasing our pension contributions. Not because our pensions are fully-funded, but because a city in our financial position doesn’t have the luxury of fully-funding pensions in the near-term.
There must be help from our tax-exempt institutions. Institutions that are a vital part of our city — as employers, as centers of excellence, as points of pride. Institutions whose financial help we still need.
We must have a conversation with our largest property owners. These companies pay large tax bills already — and their philanthropic giving supports countless organizations serving Hartford residents. But we must nonetheless ask them to do more.
We may need changes in state law to achieve some of these things, and we will seek whatever changes we believe are necessary to put Hartford on a sound foundation, working in partnership with our outstanding Hartford delegation.
I’ve been blunt about the mistakes that got us here. I’ve been blunt about some of the steps that we must take. But let me be equally blunt in saying this:
Over the long-term, we can’t do this on our own here in Hartford.
The deepest cuts, the most painful concessions, the elimination of services, and even the most generous help from partners in Hartford — all of that will only get us part of the way toward closing the gap in the years ahead.
Because while part of the problem was a failure to make tough choices in the past, part of the problem is beyond the direct control of any Mayor or City Council.
Our city is less than eighteen square miles. Property taxes are our only real source of local revenue, yet more than half of our property is tax- exempt — because we’re home to institutions that serve the region and the state, but which pay no taxes to the City of Hartford.
We live in a region that is among the most affluent in America, yet we shoulder the responsibility of serving neighborhoods that are among the poorest in the nation.
We shoulder a burden that we cannot sustain alone, and that must be shared more broadly. Not just for Hartford’s sake, but for the region and for the state.
This region needs a strong, healthy urban center at its core.
If we allow Hartford to fall into a cycle of crisis and decline, the impact will be felt not just in Hartford, but in home prices, home sales and unemployment numbers in West Hartford, Simsbury, Windsor, Glastonbury, Bloomfield, and every surrounding town.
If, on the other hand, we position ourselves to compete with the Austins, the Pittsburghs, the Louisvilles of America, the entire region will reap the rewards in jobs, in home prices, and in a virtuous cycle of innovation and growth.
In the long run, aside from getting our own house in order, there are three parts to the solution, all of which require us to build a consensus for change well beyond Hartford’s borders:
One is greater support from the state, despite the state’s budget crisis. Hartford is the state capital, and we all share an interest in — and responsibility for — Hartford’s success.
Another is to stop talking about regionalism and start regionalizing.
Regionalizing can take many forms. Sharing of services. Sharing of revenues. Or, as nearly every successful metro region in the country has done, actually breaking down boundaries.
Let there be no mistaking this reality: if we collectively cling to our New England provincialism too long, we will — sooner rather than later — find ourselves mourning the loss of the New England we love.
And a third part, which rests in the hands of the broader American electorate, is for the federal government to make real investments, once again, in state and local government — in transportation, in infrastructure, in education, in public safety, in research and development, in youth employment. The kinds of investment that helped make America great in the first place.
I have spoken at length tonight about our fiscal position. I will continue to speak publicly, in town halls and in community meetings, where residents have the chance to ask me questions directly.
This administration will tackle our challenges head-on, regardless of the political cost.
But this administration will not be defined by crisis alone. Even as we work hard to make the changes we need to survive, we will fight for our priorities.
We remain committed to doing everything we can to make our streets safer, and our neighborhoods stronger. By recruiting the next generation of police officers as so many Hartford police prepare to retire; by modernizing law enforcement, using cameras and other technology; and by engaging our community more effectively.
We embrace the principle that small things matter. Blighted properties, empty lots and litter can weigh a neighborhood down, and fixing those small things can change a whole community.
We will use every legal tool available to us to combat blight, and transfer chronically blighted properties into productive, caring hands.
We will continue to seek private resources to help put our young men and women to work — with a particular focus on building a Youth Service
Corps that gives our young people a chance to earn a paycheck while working for their community.
And I will advocate tirelessly for changes in our criminal justice system that will help make Connecticut — and Hartford — a true second chance society. That means lobbying private employers to “Ban the Box.”
That means reforming pre-trial detention, so that jail time has more to do with your crime and less to do with ability to make bail. And that means continuing to reform the pardon and parole process.
Most important of all, we will do everything we can to recruit and retain employers, small and big. We will help build a city that fosters innovation, incubation and entrepreneurship, because that’s what drives real, long-term growth — not expensive buildings or baseball stadiums.
When I launched my campaign for Mayor a year ago, I said that Hartford is at a moment of tremendous challenge and tremendous opportunity. Today, I believe that more than ever.
Next year, the University of Connecticut will open its doors downtown. In 2018, we will see commuter rail service linking New Haven, Hartford and Springfield.
The Capital Region Development Authority, which has fueled the residential development in downtown, now has capital set aside for investment in our neighborhoods.
There is increased interest in developing in Hartford, and a renewed excitement about Hartford in our surrounding towns.
The opportunities are real, and they are near. The challenges, too, are real. And they’re already here. The only way to seize our opportunities is to confront our challenges.
Tonight, I ask all of you to join me in securing Hartford’s future by confronting its financial challenges boldly.
We will not accept a future of decline for our city.
We will build Hartford on a sound foundation, so that what we build will last.
We will do whatever it takes to ensure that sometime in the future, a mayor will be able to stand in this chamber and declare that the state of our city is as strong as it has ever been.
Thank you all. May God Bless the United States of America, the State of Connecticut, and the great City of Hartford.