HARTFORD – On Thursday, a group of Democratic lawmakers aligned with Recovery For All, a coalition of community, religious and labor groups, presented the “Equity Agenda” – about $2.8 billion in programs and tax credits they called a transformative step toward addressing disparities in opportunities between Connecticut’s rich and poor.
The agenda – which would raise taxes on corporations, expensive properties and high-income earners – will be at odds with Gov. Ned Lamont, who said he doesn’t want to increase anyone’s taxes as he prepares a budget with a projected surplus of more than $3 billion.
State Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, said lawmakers were sent to the Capitol to do the work of the people, which is not, “saying to the richest among us, ‘Hey, here’s another tax break. Here’s another way you can escape your responsibility – a way you can escape paying what you owe.’”
The “Equity Agenda” calls for boosting revenue by $1.24 -1.44 billion per year through a 2 mill statewide property tax on commercial and residential properties worth more than $1.5 million, a 5 percent surtax on capital gains for people earning more than $500,000, raising the corporate tax rate, and a 10 percent digital advertising tax on companies earning more than $10 billion. It would create three new tax brackets with higher tax rates for people earning more than $1 million, $10 million and $25 million.
The agenda includes tax relief for the poor and middle class by spending annually: $49 million to maintain the state’s income tax credit; $250 million to double the child tax credit to $500; $180-240 million to double the property tax credit to $600; and $180-240 million to provide property tax relief to seniors.
It also calls for spending $100 million to expand public mental health, re-entry and education programs, $330 million to boost higher education funding, $90 million to fully fund education cost sharing, and $83.6 million to expand Husky health coverage to all undocumented immigrants.
Finally, it calls for improving pay for public sector workers: $740 million to establish a “living” wage scale for early childhood educators and childcare workers; $251.5 million to raise pay and provide professional development to paraeducators; and $500 million to raise all long-term care wages to a minimum of $25 an hour.
The coalition also proposed spending $4 million to hire 50 additional auditors, which they said would bring in $100 million in revenue that isn’t being collected now.
“When I think about who we want to be as a state, it’s a state where everyone, not just the wealthiest few, can truly thrive,” Rep. Kate Farrar, D-West Hartford. “If we really want to be that, we will take action – because poverty and inequality are a policy choice.”
Lamont: ‘Just getting started’
The agenda contrasted with Lamont’s push for a tax cut for businesses that he presented at Express Kitchens in Hartford on Wednesday, where he called raising taxes on the wealthy while cutting other taxes “not a tax cut.”
“I want to set an example that Connecticut is, for the first time in a generation, cutting taxes,” Lamont said Wednesday. “Really cutting taxes across the board, with special emphasis upon working- and middle-class folks.”
Lamont said Wednesday that his tax cut proposals probably won’t be as much as some people want. He said he was “just getting started” with his pledge for a middle-class tax cut, and push to restore a tax credit for businesses, but said he didn’t want to make unsustainable tax cuts that end up being raised back up.
“For the last 40 years, the go-to has been, ‘Let’s just increase this a little bit. Let’s add on here. Let’s make a temporary addition to that [tax],’” Lamont said. “This is the first time where I think we’re going to be able to show across the board, for small businesses as well as middle-class families, we’re bending the curve, so to speak, on taxes, and making this affordable for the long-term.”
Republican leaders have so far praised Lamont’s proposals to cut taxes on businesses and the middle-class. And Lamont and legislative leaders from both parties have lauded the spending “guardrails” imposed in 2017, which they credit for stabilizing Connecticut’s finances.
“We look forward to working with the Governor to implement policies that will provide tax relief, and preserve the important, historic fiscal guardrails that are beginning to finally put our state on better financial footing,” Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, said in a written statement after Lamont’s press conference Wednesday. “With that stability, we must also provide relief to help the working- and middle-class and the job creation that supports all families.”
Winfield: ‘We don’t see the equity’
At Thursday’s presentation, Winfield said that the Lamont administration started off by saying the right things.
“They talked about equity,” Winfield said. “Then we went and looked at the budget, and we said, ‘We don’t see the equity.’”
Winfield said equity is using state money to address the harm past state policies have caused working people in Connecticut, not just funding the “bare minimum” of things that should have been funded in the first place.
“You want to talk about the economy? You want to talk about being fiscally responsible?” Winfield said. “Take care of those people, because you know what happens – at some point those people you left at the bottom become the people you need for the economy to work.”