Hartford’s Budget Priorities

If you’re a citizen of Hartford, the state capital of Connecticut, you were probably looking forward to a pleasant Independence Day holiday weekend. Perhaps you might have enjoyed the city’s traditional fireworks display. Or you might have opted to watch a Free Movie After Dark in a public park.

Unfortunately, though, new Mayor Luke Bronin has canceled all such events. His rationale? The city is close to bankruptcy, and it cannot afford to finance any social or cultural programs for the general public.

By canceling the fireworks show, Mayor Bronin saved the city approximately $100,000. Or, more accurately, an amount less than $100,000, given that Hartford has traditionally shared the cost of the event with its neighbor East Hartford.

And by canceling the summer film schedule, Bronin eliminated $19,000 from the budget. He also saved Hartford an additional quarter of a million dollars by shutting down the entire municipal Marketing, Events and Cultural Affairs unit.

Thus, in total, the Mayor saved his metropolis a few hundred thousand dollars by eliminating all of these community events. And yet funding was available to stage these activities in past years. So where did the money go this year?

One place to search for the missing funds might be the city’s partially completed wreck of a minor league baseball stadium. Last year, Hartford’s predecessor mayoral administration announced that it would spend more than $60 million to lure the Rock Cats, a successful Eastern League team, to move fifteen miles from New Britain into the capital city.

New Britain’s mayoral administration and fan base protested mightily over the theft of their team. Nevertheless, Hartford’s then-Mayor Pedro Segarra was adamant that the $60 million investment would enrich his city. So did his strategy succeed as planned?

Hardly. The money was spent on construction, but the construction firm built a structurally flawed and uninhabitable stadium.

The city is now pursuing the firm in court, and the homeless team is playing its home games in Norwich (40 miles away from Hartford) and outside of Connecticut.

So if you’re a resident of Hartford, and if you miss your free summer fireworks and movies, you might think twice about your mayoral administration’s assertions that the city cannot afford the cost of those events.

Considering the $60 million that it recently committed to its disastrous attempt to lure New Britain’s baseball team, you might instead conclude that its ostensible scarcity of resources is simply a matter of funding priorities.

Indeed, rather than opting to spend money on community events and other public resources, your political leaders chose to reserve the funds for a private construction project to build an uninhabitable ball park for a privately owned team. And now you are living with the consequences of that decision.