A few months ago, I asked a friend how she would be voting in the 2020 election. She said she would be voting for Democrats because that’s who Latinx folks are supposed to vote for. As a long-time Democratic supporter, I should have felt content with her choice — but instead, I felt deeply concerned. A vote that is not informed by policy is a misguided vote. More importantly, all residents, regardless of whether they voted or what their political orientation is, should hold candidates accountable once they are in office. As the new legislative session unfolds in Hartford over the next few months, Stamford residents should call on the City’s state delegation to save Stamford’s schools from deteriorating further, bring much-needed state funds to the City and hold Hartford accountable for its current fiscal mess.
Stamford residents send over $300 million in income taxes to Hartford each year (second only to Greenwich), yet Stamford’s municipal budget is funded almost entirely by local property taxes. In other words, Stamford residents’ hard-earned dollars do not come back to Stamford — contributing to an increasingly troubled school district and high property taxes. For example, it will cost the City $500 million to rebuild five schools that have been plagued by mold and old age, but it cannot pay for these projects through property taxes alone. As things stand right now, Stamford only received $12.4 million in state aid for its schools this year — less than any other city in Connecticut. The City will need substantial financial support from the State so that the cost of building schools does not fall exclusively on Stamford homeowners, who already carry the burden of funding about 90% of the City’s budget and a sizable portion of the state budget.
Despite receiving hundreds of millions of dollars from Stamford and its neighboring communities, the State constantly deals with budget deficits. Stamford on the other hand, had a $14.3 million budget surplus in the 2018-2019 fiscal year and is widely considered to be the most fiscally healthy city in the state. Moreover, Stamford is the economic engine of the state and its fastest-growing city. Evidently, the City of Stamford has learned to make the most out of its limited financial resources while Hartford politicians have spent Stamford’s money on issues and places far from Stamford residents’ interests.
It is time for Stamford voters to stop this unsustainable and asymmetric relationship between Stamford and Hartford. That will only happen if Stamford’s elected officials in the state legislature stand up to Hartford interests and fight for Stamford’s schools and homeowners. So far, the only state legislator from Stamford that has campaigned and delivered on promises to address some of these issues is State Senator Alex Kasser.
The issue that Stamford faces with the State is common in other Fairfield County towns, though many of them are wealthy and have impressive property tax bases. Despite sharing a common issue, Fairfield County legislators have not organized their votes into a voting bloc in the State Legislature to protect the area’s interests. Similarly, residents rarely attend public hearings in the State Capitol (likely because Hartford is a 90-minute drive away). Therefore, it is not surprising that politicians in Hartford push for measures such as the so-called “mansion tax” on homes valued at over $430,000, which would affect middle-class families in Fairfield County. Legislators who claim a $500,000 home in Fairfield County is a mansion clearly know very little about the area’s cost of living or housing market.
It is time to talk about Hartford’s asymmetrical relationship with Stamford. While it is inevitably the case that most of the state taxes come out of the wealthy communities of Fairfield County, those communities are more than revenue sources and their residents have diverse incomes, needs and backgrounds that must also be represented. Hartford politicians cannot welcome millions of dollars in revenue from Fairfield County without also welcoming the thousands of Fairfield County voices that have been ignored for so long. Moreover, this asymmetrical relationship has consequences beyond the macro-level fiscal mess that the state has created. If Fairfield County does not have money to support and uplift low-income residents, then a system of extreme inequality will continue in perpetuity as Fairfield County is one of the most unequal areas in the country. It is true that wealthy residents can afford high property taxes and pay for higher quality services such as private schools, but less fortunate residents depend heavily on the county’s largesse and tight municipal budgets. These are the residents that experience the consequences of less state funding and less political representation.
Fairfield County residents must call on their state delegations to represent them strongly in Hartford so their voices can speak louder than their dollars in this year’s legislative session.