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Commentary-There's Only One Answer To The Budget Crisis



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There’s Only One Answer To The Budget Crisis

By William A. Collins

Money’s short,

No place to axe;

It’s time to raise,

The income tax.

You may have heard that Connecticut is facing a budget crisis. Nothing new there. Our Republican governors love to spend, especially on large glitzy capital projects, and they hate to tax. They also love to borrow for daily expenses, such that the state’s debt service now amounts to 12 percent of the total budget. Our Democratic legislature has long loved to acquiesce.

Until now. This year a new breed of leadership is treading the hallways of the Capitol. It aims to end the deficit spending and to do it even-handedly. We’re talking here about an increase in the income tax on the rich, and by the rich we mean annual family incomes over $500,000. Any earnings beyond that point would pay on a graduated scale from 5.5 percent to 6.25 percent, up from 5 percent today. No, these are not revolutionary rates, but they’re a big change in policy.

Republican legislators have characteristically taken to the battlements. They make it sound like a communist takeover and again predict that the wealthy will flee the state. Right. If that rhetoric has a familiar ring, you’re probably recalling earlier claims over the initial imposition of the state income tax under Lowell Weicker. That was supposed to drive out the rich as well.

Actually quite the reverse has happened. By providing the state with substantial and reliable revenue, the tax has helped increase our quality of life, which is the chief motivator when prosperous folks are looking for a place to settle. Here in Fairfield County we’re now up to our keisters in them.

Further, this proposed increase would only amount to about a quarter of the tax cut that the president and Congress have so graciously just handed these same folks. The idea that they would now move out is little short of ludicrous. They wouldn’t even notice.

Nor is the governor herself above raising certain taxes. Given the dangerous depth of the deficit, she is at least agreeable to further burdening the poor and middle class. Many of them don’t vote, and most surely don’t contribute to her campaign. The taxes that buffet them, and which she would increase, are the ones on gasoline, tobacco, and alcohol. “Sin” taxes, if you will. (Note that gasoline is at last a sin.) Since you pay these levies by the six-pack and not by how much you make, they hit hardest at those of modest means.

Of course all this is just the revenue side of the budget. Expenditures are bitterly contentious too. And Republican lawmakers are equally vocal here, explaining how badly we need to cut spending. But oddly, here it is early May and not one newspaper that I see has yet reported a single item that the GOP would reduce. That’s the big advantage of being in the minority. Responsibility is not required.

The governor is not so lucky. She had to fashion a budget. Not shockingly, her cuts came largely out of services for the poor. You know: health, education, transit, and the like. Meanwhile she called for vast new expenditures for commuters (though not for buses). Her social service cuts would be magnified by similar chopping at the federal level. Thus cities would again be left holding the bag.

Perhaps this whiny recitation by now sounds familiar. It should. For years one could basically just dust off last year’s column and update the names. But this year is different — there are new faces in the old corral. Remarkably the Domestic Partnership law has already passed, and the legislative pipeline is full to bursting with overdue proposals from our constipated past. The General Assembly has clearly earned high honors for the first marking period, and we can but hope that its ardor sustains through the whole budgetary semester.

(Columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.)

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