A conflict between the executive (Mayor) and Legislative (Common Council) branches of city government is casting a lot of uncertainty over a final agreement on the municipal budget that needs to take effect in just 10 days. What the law says about the prerogatives of the Mayor to veto a budget and the concurrent right of the Council to override the veto is being closely examined in the impasse that erupted last week. It takes two-thirds of the Council (10 votes) to override a mayoral veto.
The matter is sure to get a full airing at the Wednesday, June 23rd, Common Council meeting — the last of the current fiscal year. Public participation will occur at 7 p.m. prior to the regular agenda.
At issue is Mayor Stewart’s selective veto of line items last week, including a $1.5 million addition for the public schools and the administration’s refusal to implement senior property tax relief that has once again been appropriated by the Council. The City Council adopted a budget with the put backs for education and seniors June 14th but Stewart nixed the Council plan. The Common Council leadership, responding to pleas for increased school funding to avert classroom cuts from teachers, students and parents, maintains that some but not all of the painful cuts can be avoided in a Democratic plan that spends $1 million less than Stewart’s plan. Stewart and his cohorts call the threat of teacher layoffs and classroom cuts a “scare tactic”. In a highly charged and divisive veto letter Stewart, among other points, accused Board of Education President Sharon Beloin Saavedra with “blackmail” and continued a longstanding pattern of trash talk about Democrats on the Council.
Surprisingly, the source of least disagreement between Stewart and the Council at this point is the tax rate itself, which is estimated to be an approximate 5% hike, down from Stewart’s original 7% but a significant rate hike nonetheless. Moreover, only $1 million separates the bottom line in both plans with the Council calling for less spending. The disagreement is really over budget priorities. Stewart is holding firm against providing the schools with an increment that would reduce the number of layoffs in education. And he again opposes additional property tax relief funds for qualified older residents to be used over and above state funds available for the same purpose.
Last Thursday the Democratic Town Committee unanimously adopted a resolution in support of the city budget approved by the Common Council.
The DTC took issue with the personal animus and negative tone contained in the Mayor’s veto message. Democratic Town Chair John McNamara said he will urge members of the City Council to sustain its vote and override the mayor’s veto in the interests of saving front-line jobs and mitigating the harm being caused by the deep recession.