A Town Council vote of no confidence in the state budget process last Thursday became a political face-off between First Selectman Tim Herbst and the Democrat who will challenge him for the seat in November.

Town Council Democrat Vicki Tesoro, who represents District 3, voted against the symbolic vote of no confidence in Gov. Dannel Malloy’s and Democratic legislators’ handling of the state budget process, saying it was not in the Town Council's authority to take such a vote. The vote was passed by Republicans on the council, who supported the proposal put forth by Herbst.

Herbst acted as an ex-officio member of the council during the meeting.

“When you are the first selectman you have an obligation to fight on behalf of your constituents — all of your constituents that are adversely impacted,” Herbst said. “This budget is a job killer.”

The vote last Thursday came before Malloy announced Friday he was proposing changes to the tax package and giving the legislature the option to cut 1.5% in spending.

During the meeting, Tesoro said the vote was nothing but political grandstanding and she worried it would hurt, rather than help, Trumbull. She said a town forum on the state budget would have been more helpful than calling a council meeting to take the vote.

“We have elected representatives that vote for us in the state legislature,” Tesoro said at the meeting. “We are Town Council members, we vote on issues that face Trumbull. Nowhere in the charter does it say we have a vote of no confidence.”
“It’s an abuse of our power,” she said. “We are making a political statement with no power to do so.”

Tesoro avoided making any comment on the state budget when prompted by both Herbst and Council Vice Chair Suzanne Testani.

“Notwithstanding your concerns with the process, let’s assume — while I disagree — but let’s assume your concerns have merit,” Herbst said. “How do you feel about this budget? Do you think this is a good budget for Trumbull?”

Tesoro said she was expecting the question but found it inappropriate, saying it would lead to a political debate.

“This is not about whether I am in favor or not in favor,” Tesoro said. “It’s not a fair question.”

Herbst said he wasn’t trying to get Tesoro to bash fellow Democrats.

“I have demonstrated I’m not afraid to call out members of the opposing party but also members of my own party,” Herbst said.

Tesoro reiterated she would not engage in a debate on the state budget.

"It's not my job. I have elected a representative to represent me in the state legislature and that's their job," Tesoro said. "My job is to talk about the issues facing our town in Trumbull."

Testani, acting as chair of the meeting, said it was all about sending a message.

“We are not voting anything into law tonight. We are sending a clear message to Hartford,” Testani said. “I’m afraid for our town. That’s why we’re here tonight.”

District 4 Republican Joe Pifko thanked the first selectman for calling the meeting and said he hoped every town and city in the state would hold a similar vote.

State Rep. Laura Devlin (R-134) and State Rep. Dave Rutigliano (R-123) came to speak at the meeting’s onset to explain their take on the budget process. Both of them voted against it.

Devlin described the budget as “shameful, horrific and reckless.”

Both spoke on the potential impact the budget will have on hospitals and business.

Rutigliano said the budget is offensive. The state loves the tax dollars that come out of Fairfield County but is hurting the businesses where so many of local residents work.

Rutigliano also said that Republicans were not allowed to be part of the budget discussion and what he described as a balanced budget proposed by the GOP was ignored.

Later in the meeting, Tesoro said she could relate to Republican legislators saying they were left out of important discussions. She cited a council vote recently on an ordinance that gives raises to the first selectman and other town officials. Council Republicans proposed changes to the ordinance and gave a copy of that proposal to the four Democrats on the council the day of the meeting. Tesoro's comment prompted a response from Herbst, who interjected with his opinion on the compensation  ordinance she mentioned. It devolved into a back and forth, with Tesoro calling the question, and the two interrupting one another.

The heated exchange prompted one resident in the crowd to whisper, “November should fun.”

After about an hour of discussion and debate, the vote of no confidence passed easily. Two Democrats on the council voted against it and two abstained.