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Letter: Coming To Grips With Norwalk's Budget Saga

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk.DailyVoice.com accepts signed, original letters to the editor. Letters may be emailed to letters@dailyvoice.com.

To the Editor,

Now that this year's extended budget cycle is over, I can say without doubt I have never been wrong so many times. It all began last winter, when the finance director, with the support of the mayor, recommended the city increase spending by 3.8 percent for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

I am a Democrat. But I was not in a partisan mood last winter. I examined the 3.8 percent recommendation and decided it was a reasonable budget, a nice balance between the needs of the school system and the needs of the city.

The trouble started in the finance committee. After a drawn-out debate about the future location of the Norwalk Museum, I said I supported the 3.8 percent recommendation.

I expected the other Democrats at the meeting to strongly disagree and declare 3.8 percent was too low. I was stunned when a Democrat announced he would rather support a budget with a 2.8 percent spending increase – about $2.5 million less than the finance director's recommendation.

I do not participate in the Democratic council caucus – too much fighting, name calling and political theater. Thus, I had no idea what the Democrats were up to. Plus, I had a potential problem: It looked as if I would end up on the side of the Republicans for this budget.

But I was wrong again. I assumed the Republicans on the council would back their mayor. But they were pushing for a spending increase between 2 percent and 2.4 percent. I was in a strange position. Was it possible the mayor and I would be deemed the big spenders this time around?

In the back of mind I figured the Democrats would eventually come around to my position, 3.8 percent. At the time, the Democrats had a one-vote majority on the council, so we could push it through – and we would have the added satisfaction of having the mayor on our side.

Wrong again. I soon learned that two council Democrats had endorsed a spending increase of 5 percent . This, of course, complicated life considerably, but in my innocence I truly believed I was sitting in the catbird's seat, smack dab between the big spending 5 percenters and the more conservative 2.8 percent crowd. This would be an easy compromise, or so I thought.

Nobody budged until the final council meeting, the one where we had to set a spending limit for the city. I was all but certain that members of my party would reach agreement and we would end up with a budget close to 3.8 percent.

Wrong yet again. A member of the Democratic caucus asked me if I could support a spending increase of 2.8 percent . He seemed to be indicating the majority of the caucus was more willing to compromise with the Republicans than with the other Democrats on the council.

Reluctantly, and perhaps foolishly, I agreed. Thus, the Democrats made the 2.8 percent motion and, surprisingly (at least to me), the Republicans voted for it.

I thought we were pretty much done with the 2012-13 operating budget, but then the Board of Education announced it had found a $4 million deficit in its current budget. I'll skip the details, by now well known, and move to the June 12 council meeting, when the Democrats put forth a resolution to loan the BOE the $4 million.

I opposed this resolution for lots of reasons, which I have written about already . Suffice to say the June 12 meeting was the scene of my last mistake. I was led to believe the Democrats were willing to have me amend the resolution in a manner that might enable it to achieve a majority.

So I deleted the $4 million "therefore" and inserted language that called for a "special appropriation for the BOE of $1.8 million; such an appropriation would reduce the BOE's current reconciliation to $5.9 million, which is consistent with the spending limit approved by the Common Council last February." (The Board of Estimate had already reduced the BOE reconciliation by $2.2 million.)

I assumed the Democrats would back the amendment because it put the BOE, fiscally speaking, back where we left it when we approved the budget. But lo and behold, five Democrats refused to support it. I still have no idea why they voted no.

Two weeks later, the Democrats introduced another resolution, which passed. It called on the city to make a special appropriation for the BOE not to exceed $1.8 million. Go figure.

Ironically, the same Democrats who in February endorsed a budget that was $2.5 million less than the mayor's recommendation are now blaming the mayor for creating the $4 million BOE shortfall by chronically "underfunding education." Go figure again. I sure can't.

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