For the budget hearing assignment, our group decided to attend the town budget hearing for the City of West Hartford. The City has a population of 66k, surpassing the criteria of the assignment and well represents a median sampling of statewide town budgeting. Taking classes at a nearby UConn satellite campus, our groupmate, Christian, was able to witness and tape record the hearing, as well as collect additional materials describing the Proposed City Budget. At the hearing, he was able to observe a number of citizens express their input and concerns regarding the proposed budget for 2012. Representing the town of West Hartford was the Mayor Scott Slifka who chaired the town meeting.
Rather than addressing each budget item individually, the Mayor invited City residents to participate by signing up to speak publically on the item of their choosing. Easily witnessed in all of the proceedings were the passions of each speakers concern—city/small town politics are surprising loud. At the hearing, a number of citizens expressed public concern for the proposed budget; specifically on topics they felt were not adequately taken into consideration. Certain individuals commanded time well beyond their allotment, and through a listening of the recordings of the event, it is apparent that not everyone would be able to get all that they wanted to express heard.
One case that dominated the hearing addressed the “fair assessment” of property taxes within the City. Local resident, Mr. Robert Melon, brought this matter up when comparing the property tax rate of West Hartford to four times that of Greenwich, Connecticut where the mill rate hovers at around $8. Mr. Melon claims through his research that properties in West Hartford which were improperly assessed in value (Lewis-Hildreth,315.) could have resulted in more revenue for the City. It was his suggestion that proper evaluations of properties, and the revenue gain therein, would be preferable to any raise in mill rate (Lewis-Hildreth,326.) However, like Mr. Melon says, “this does not make a contribution to this budget.” It is a matter of revenue “collection,” and not the agenda matter of the hearing. Others came forth to speak, but similarly, they strayed from the matter of the budget towards their cause of choice—with apparent practice.
In our evaluation of the material provided at the meeting, we were able to make some observations on the state of West Hartford’s budget stability. Differences between the adopted FY ‘10/11 budget versus the FY ‘11/12 show increased expenditures and increased revenue to match. Total increases for the proposed budget of FY ‘11/12 of $5.6 million dollars are shown across a number of categories including wages, operating costs, and benefits. These express a 5.8% rise in spending over the prior fiscal year. If the trend follows, the City of West Harford could likely see future tax increases match the gap. This will affect a rise in the collection property taxes, which are the primary source of revenue for the City. Also, decreases to the capital financing budget may also lead to disinvestment in City and school system infrastructure maintenance. Decreases in expenditures to items such as “Community Services,” “Human and Leisure Services,” and Town Clerk operations project a decrease in services, provided, relative to the prior FY.
Overview of the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974
The Congressional Budget Act (CBA) has been the foundation of U.S. federal budgeting since 1974. The Act shifted budgetary control away from the Executive to the Legislature; curbing encroachment of the Office of the President upon the rights and purpose of Congress. The text of the Constitution establishes Congress as the body with controlling power over the federal budget wherein only Congress has the power to levy taxes or borrow against the credit of the U.S. Article I, Section 9 prohibits the drawing of funds from the Treasury without an appropriation by law.
The Executive Office gained power over a number of maneuvers, beginning in the 1800s to compensate for increased government spending and the ability of congressional committees to line-item manage hundreds of millions of dollars in appropriations. “The increased size of the government combined with the increased presidential powers would be identified by Arthur Schlesinger “Imperial Presidency”. Eventually, this resulted in fiscal conflict with Congress, in the “Seven Year Budget War” waged by President Nixon until 1974.
Spending in social programs had been on the rise with congressional approval, coupled with an ‘incursion’ abroad in Southeast Asia led to rising deficits. Nixon entered into office inheriting a fiscally troubled government… with the continuing rise in entitlement spending and the lack of sufficient economic growth to sustain an enlarging federal government weighing heavily on the budget.” In his approach to mitigate this issue, Nixon “made decisions which alienated Congress … and his actions greatly contributed to the crisis in the government which eventually necessitated the 1974 act.”
An Act to establish a new congressional budget process; to establish Committees on the Budget in each House; to establish a Congressional Budget Office; to establish a procedure providing congressional control over the impoundment of funds by the executive branch; and for other purposes.
Title X of the law, also known as the Impoundment Control Act of 1974, specifies that the President may propose to Congress that funds be rescinded. If both the Senate and the House of Representatives have not approved a rescission proposal (by passing legislation) within 45 days of continuous session, any funds being withheld must be made available for obligation.
Congress is not required to vote on such a proposal and has ignored most Presidential requests thus; effectively removed the historical Presidential power of impoundment, replacing it with a program whereby the president was required to propose to Congress the rescission of specific funding proposals.  Many Presidents and government officials have called for more Executive leverage to rescind Congressional spending since implementation of the Act.  I personally believe that the topic of presidential, top-level, impoundment is an important notion to consider, of course, under requisite oversight of appropriately determined ‘checks and balances’.
 Wikipedia: Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974;
 Lee, Nooree, Harvard Law School Federal Budget Policy, Briefing Paper No. 34; “Congressional Budget and
Impoundment Control Act of 1974, Reconsidered” http://www.law.harvard.edu/faculty/hjackson/BudgetActRevisited_34.pdf
 Wikipedia; ibid.
 Lee, Nooree; ibid.
 Lee, Nooree; ibid.