Christine Stuart photo

One of the centerpieces to Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley’s urban policy agenda is a proposal to cut the car tax rate in any city or town where it’s higher than 30 mills.

Foley said his proposal would only cost about $30 million and it would also include a cap on the personal property taxes for small businesses in cities where the mill rate is above 30 mills.

“This will cut the car tax in Hartford by 60 percent or about $400 on a typical car,” Foley said outside New Britain City Hall on Wednesday. Under Foley’s plan, New Britain’s tax rate on cars would be cut by about 18 percent.

“The car tax is simply too high in our cities and distorts markets,” Foley added. “People should be able to drive the kind of car they want to drive and can afford and the car they own shouldn’t affect where they choose to live.”

Foley also would cap personal property taxes for small businesses in cities where the mill rate is over 30 mills.

Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s 2013 proposal to cut car taxes was promptly squashed by local mayors and first selectmen who rely on the revenue to support their municipal budgets. That year, Malloy’s budget called for eliminating the tax on motor vehicles valued at $28,500 or less. The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated that cities and towns would lose $632.8 million as a result.

Foley was flanked at the press conference by mayors from New Britain, Bristol, Danbury, and Meriden. When Foley announced the car tax cut the mayors looked surprised, since it would mean some of them would lose revenue.

“The revenue loss to our cities — the mayors will be happy to hear this — will be made up by the state,” Foley said.

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton said his city isn’t impacted by the proposal because its mill rate is below 30 mills.

“For those municipalities who struggle with this issue, particularly Hartford and Waterbury and New Britain with a very high mill rate, this has real appeal,” Boughton said. “As long as the state of Connecticut provides a refund for that lost revenue I don’t have a problem with it.”

Boughton said a universal mill rate would be problematic because under previous administrations “we haven’t quite been able to trust the government to do what they say they’re going to do and usually municipalities are the ones left holding the bag at the end.”

He said it’s usually up to municipalities to “duct tape money together to make sure kids have classes to go to and officers are able to get paid.”

Boughton, who was running against Foley earlier this year before dropping out of the race, said he thinks Foley’s car tax proposal is a “good compromise.”

When Foley announced his campaign for governor last September, he vowed to come up with an urban strategy. The document released Wednesday was the result of his conversations with individuals and businesses who live and work in Connecticut’s cities.

Mark Bergman, a spokesman for the Malloy campaign, said Foley’s urban strategy, especially the car tax reduction, does not even begin to address the needs of urban communities.

“He will shut down local schools just like he closed mills leaving children without a classroom,” Bergman said.

Bergman added that the report plagiarizes from other sources. The Connecticut Democratic Party sent out a press release highlighting sentences from the Connecticut Policy Institute, a nonprofit think-tank Foley founded after he lost in 2010, an article published by The Heartland Institute and the Pelican Post, two free-market think tanks. Some of the sentences in those sources appear verbatim in Foley’s urban strategy.

A section of Foley’s three-part urban strategy involves turning around underperforming public schools.

Foley said he would ask local school districts with underperforming schools to offer in-district school choice. He would combine that with “money follows the child,” a controversial funding method. Under a “money follows the child” approach, the district would pay the charter school to educate the child. The state would deduct the money from the town’s Education Cost Sharing grant and send it directly to the charter or magnet school.

Those two things combined mean “the marketplace starts to exert pressure on schools to perform better,” Foley said.

He said underperforming schools should be on notice if he’s elected governor because those are the schools that would receive fewer funds.

“They should start trying to be better schools right away,” Foley said.

He said if they don’t improve with fewer resources and lose too many students, then they’ll be reconstituted.

Is this the tough love approach to education?

“I don’t see it as tough love. I see it as institutions that aren’t performing lose. Yeah, that’s kind of the way the private sector works and it ought to be the way the schools work.”

So some schools will close as a result of this and other schools will get more resources? “Yeah,” Foley said.

Earlier in the day, Democratic legislators came to the Capitol to criticize Foley’s education policy.

The final part of Foley’s urban strategy involves reducing crime and improving the criminal justice system.

“There are a lot of impediments to ex-offenders getting jobs,” Foley said. “I respect the rights of employers to have relevant information about prospective hires and other things that I think they need to make intelligent and thoughtful hiring decisions, but I think in many ways the deck is unnecessarily stacked against ex-offenders.”

He said he would like to find ways to get employers to hire ex-offenders and give them a chance.

Asked if he would support banning the box on the initial employment application that would force a person to disclose their criminal history, Foley said his “inclination would be to get rid of it.”

Foley said he thinks he will be able to pay for all these initiatives without raising overall spending.

“Listen, this state spends $21 billion a year,” Foley said. “That’s a lot of money.”

He said there are places in the state budget to save money, especially when it comes to healthcare costs.

“Everybody in Connecticut will benefit if we can reduce the cost of healthcare services in the state by 5 or 10 percent,” Foley opined. “I don’t think that’s an unreasonable goal and if we can do that, the state spends over $7 billion a year on healthcare services, so if we can get 10 percent that’s $700 million right there.”