Hartford Mayor On Trial: Eddie Perez Must Step Aside
Mayor's Trial: He will be otherwise occupied for six weeks or more
May 12, 2010
Hartford leaders are in the midst of a difficult budget debate. Mayor Eddie Perez has proposed a potentially back-breaking tax increase, and the city council is trying to get that increase down to zero. This will require nuanced and complex negotiations.
But it will be hard for Mr. Perez to take part in the process because his long-awaited trial on bribery and extortion charges is scheduled to begin today in Superior Court. The trial is expected to last six weeks.
It ought now to be clear to everyone, including the mayor, why he should step down and focus on his defense. He was elected to serve the residents of the city. Though he has shown a remarkable ability to compartmentalize over the past couple of years, to soldier on as if nothing were wrong, the game is up. He cannot be in two places at once, doing two important things at once.
The council cannot let Mr. Perez's budget proposal stand. He proposed a $554.3 million budget for fiscal 2011, an increase of almost $20 million over the current budget and one that will require a 5 percent tax increase. That actually means an 8.5 percent hike for residential taxpayers, who start with an automatic 3.5 percent tax increase due to the phase-out of a surcharge on commercial property. The Hartford budget has risen every year since 2002-03, when it was $422.4 million.
Another substantial tax increase, after last year's 4.5 percent increase, would be devastating to many residents and businesses.
Council President Pedro Segarra says the council seeks to cut costs in several areas of the budget. One cut may involve furloughs for all city employees. Last year, Mr. Perez vetoed a budget-cutting proposal from the council, which could not muster seven votes to override.
What is Mr. Perez going to do this year, phone in a veto during a recess?
Mr. Perez is being the dog in the manger. Whether or not he is found guilty of criminal charges, he committed an ethical violation by accepting significant home improvement work from a contractor who did business with the city — and by not paying the contractor for his work until investigators came asking questions. He should leave; he cannot do the job from the defense table.
If the city is to get through this difficult period, the council should decide on a lower budget and get a veto-proof seven votes for it. Someone with a sharp budget eye has to lead the city in the mayor's absence.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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