Give it to Connecticut Democrats. They never give up. They are determined to diminish local government to a status of virtual triviality in the name of progressivism and in their unquenchable thirst for ever more state tax revenue.
This legislative session, the Democrats want to impose progressive statewide zoning provisions that would virtually eliminate local authority over residential housing.
In a second blow to housing and another blow to municipalities, the Democrats, led by Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, want to levy a statewide property tax. The very proposal demonstrates why local control should be defended at all costs. Yet another tax proposal by Hartford Democrats illustrates dramatically that Hartford cannot live within its means.
Forget what Hartford is taxing or for what reason or cause; it doesn’t matter. What matters is that taxes, in one form or another, go up every year in Connecticut. They have for decades. That must stop or the state won’t survive.
No matter the underlying policy issue involved – affordable housing, good schools, safe and unclogged highways – a government which cannot manage its own fiscal affairs has no business telling other governments how to manage theirs.
The hypocrisy becomes dramatic when irresponsible state Democrats encroach on the only revenue source of responsible municipalities.
Towns can only levy property taxes, while the state has a broad array of revenue sources. The state can and does levy personal and corporate income taxes, a tax on hospitals, three types of gas taxes, sales taxes, property transfer taxes, paid family and medical leave taxes, as well as collecting a host of licensing fees.
Indeed, I wrote two weeks ago about a Yankee Institute study revealing that the state collects revenue from a whopping 344 different revenue sources. Never mind that the bottom 200 combined raise less than $50 million in revenue. Their cost of administration is probably a multiple of that amount.
I suggested that Democrat Governor Lamont get together with his fellow party members and apply the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid) which Lamont has embraced recently — and eliminate many of those taxes.
Now, two weeks later, the Democrats want to do the opposite, namely establish yet another tax.
Why does Hartford need more money? Why does Hartford need to invade the only tax base that towns have?
The timing of the zoning and statewide property tax proposals is titanically ironic. Washington Democrats have just passed the American Recovery Plan that will send state government in Connecticut a cool $2.7 billion, or more than 10% of the annual state budget. Why do Hartford Democrats need more tax money in this of all years?
The strength of Connecticut is its 169 cities and towns, most of which do live within their means. A notable exception is the Democrat-run City of Hartford, which state Democrats bailed out with about $500 million of state money a few years ago.
Instead of undermining responsible town government, irresponsible Hartford Democrats should do the opposite and cede authority to towns.
Make no mistake about responsibility for the fiscal mess in which the state finds itself. Democrats have controlled both houses of the General Assembly for 34 of the last 36 years – excepting only a single two-year term in the Senate in the 1990s.
Instead of extracting revenue from towns, Hartford Democrats should send aid this year to needy localities. $2.7 billion is certainly enough to support towns and citizens in special need due to the pandemic.
That’s what they should do this year.
Citizens interested in longer-term answers, especially those represented in Hartford by a Democrat, should ask their state senator or state representative two questions. First, please name a single tax that has been eliminated or reduced during the last twelve years of absolute Democrat control of the state – control of both the governorship and the general Assembly. Indeed, ask anyone you know, whether they can think of a single tax reduction.
You won’t get an answer. The only reality is that new taxes are introduced every year – paid leave and a new gas tax this year. So taxes go up and up.
Second, ask this: if taxes are always going up, why is the state perpetually short of revenue? Why is Connecticut always in a fiscal crisis?
Until you get satisfactory answers, do everything you can to defend local government in face of state encroachment.
Red Jahncke is a nationally recognized columnist, who writes about politics and policy. His columns appear in numerous national publications, such as The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, USA Today, The Hill, Issues & Insights and National Review as well as many Connecticut newspapers.