With Governor Lamont discouraging “broad-based” tax increases, many fellow Democrats in the General Assembly are planning to raise taxes around the edges.
Most industrious may be Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney of New Haven. Looney would impose a special state property tax on expensive homes, a “mansion tax,” the revenue to be transferred to his hometown and other troubled cities. Looney also proposes rewriting the formula for state money to municipalities so as to give cities more and suburbs less for properties exempt from property taxes.
These proposals and others are based on the premise that the cities are oppressed financially by property tax exemption, and because the cities house so much “need,” particularly unparented schoolchildren.
But there is no particular fairness to a “mansion tax,” since mansions already pay much more in property taxes than other residential properties even as mansion occupants use much less in government services. That’s why suburbs use zoning to exclude inexpensive apartments — because such apartments tend to house unmarried women with many fatherless children, thus consuming much more in public services than they pay in property taxes. It’s also why the cities want to nullify that zoning — so they can export these burdensome households to the suburbs.
Since high taxes are already causing wealthy and middle-class people to leave Connecticut, the governor doesn’t want to raise their taxes. A “mansion tax” would extract their money in a less visible way — if they stayed.
As for the formula for state payments in lieu of taxes, there is no science to it. It is always a judgment call determined by political advantage, by how much has to be paid to which towns to achieve a majority in the legislature.
Yes, half a city’s land may be tax-exempt but then state government already reimburses half the budgets of the cities and most of their biggest expense, schools. So the property tax issue is not so compelling. Mainly cities just spend too much and accomplish too little with it.
After all, school spending has little effect on school performance in the cities or anywhere. More spending mainly increases staff compensation.
Really, just how impoverished and deserving is Looney’s own New Haven when it just began paying a lifetime pension of $117,000 a year to its “retiring” police chief so that, at age 49, he could become police chief at Quinnipiac University at a likely salary of $170,000 and build up a second huge pension?
Any city that spends that way is too comfortable being “poor,” though New Haven may be somewhat forgiven lately because its news organizations won’t report the chief’s pension.
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RAIL PIPE DREAM: Another pipe dream was floated last week by the Connecticut Mirror’s Tom Condon — a proposal to bring high-speed passenger railroad service through the state to connect Boston and New York. A previous proposal would have built a line parallel to the shore route already in clunky operation, but towns in eastern Connecticut freaked out and it was withdrawn.
The new plan would run the line from New York City to the middle of Long Island, build a tunnel under Long Island Sound to New Haven, use the rail corridor north to Hartford, and then clear a new corridor east to Manchester, Storrs, and Providence, connecting to the Boston line there.
The dream is lovely — and would be laughable even if the federal government offered to pay for it all. For even ordinary transportation infrastructure improvement is often impossible in Connecticut because of environmental and neighborhood objections and political cowardice.
For decades state government has failed to complete even basic projects like Interstate 384 from Bolton to Providence and Route 11 from Salem to Waterford, the latter project being just 8 miles long.
Tweed New Haven Airport still can’t lengthen its runway by a few hundred feet to handle standard jetliners.
The Metro-North railroad from New Haven to New York is often incapacitated by rickety tracks, sagging power lines, and problems with bridges more than a century old.
So smoke on, rail fans. Marijuana will be fully legal here soon if that’s not what you’re smoking already.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.