A sales tax increase? It took you nearly three months of overtime to come up with this, House Democrats?
It’s been a while since we’ve heard anything from the legislature about the budget, which was due back at the beginning of June. But this week Democratic leaders in the House finally unveiled a new draft that, among other things, raises sales taxes and eliminates the offloading of parts of the teacher retirement fund to towns. It also restores some of the cuts in social services, education, labor, libraries, parks, and tourism in the governor’s budget proposal from way back in February.
I have no idea why it took this long. Apart from swapping the sales tax for the inevitable rise in property taxes that dumping a big chunk of the teacher retirement fund on towns would cause, it’s not that controversial. In most areas, this budget is the same as the governor’s budget. Out of 708 listed adjustments for fiscal year 2018, 66 percent of the House Democrats’ adjustments were identical to the governor’s.
As for the rest, there’s not much of a hint of philosophy of governance. Sure, some of the more brutal cuts to social services were undone by the Democrats, but their budget also cuts money that would have helped deal with crumbling foundations in eastern Connecticut and provides much more money for the Department of Correction. In among things like the salvaging of the public library system funding and transit for the disabled is money for regulating industrial hemp and around $10 million for tourism. There’s little bits and pieces here and there, like money for the New Haven Symphony and New London’s OpSail, the restoration of the Governor’s Horse Guard, and a little bit more money for the Old State House.
It feels like something that was cobbled together without a lot of thought about what to prioritize, who to help, and what the role of government should play in a time of constant fiscal disaster.
In short, it’s yet another band-aid budget. All it’s meant to do is stop the bleeding in the hope that, magically, things will be better next year.
The sales tax increase is a good example of this kind of thinking. Progressives hate sales taxes because they’re regressive taxes; sales tax actually takes a bigger bite, percentage-wise, out of the income of the poor than the rich. If a rich person and a poor person both buy, say, a refrigerator, it’s harder for the poor person to afford the sales tax that goes along with it. So if you’re a progressive, cranking up the sales tax ought to bother you.
But, as far as raising revenue goes, it’s one of the easier things to implement politically because the effect is harder to see. When the income tax goes up, you’ll notice it at the end of the year when you’re doing taxes — you’re suddenly owing a lot more to the state than last year. Property taxes are the same — the big hike is visible whenever your tax bill comes from the town. And if the state put up tolls, which they really should, then drivers would curse them all out because it would be new.
We already have a sales tax, though. Most people don’t think too much about sales tax, and a difference of a percentage point or so won’t register because it’s so spread out over time. What’s a few more pennies spent on a candy bar? A few more dollars on a TV?
It’s the easy way out. In fact, the only politically easier way to raise money is to hike the cigarette tax — which Democrats are also doing.
As responses to the governor’s budget go, this budget isn’t terrible. It has lots of flaws, and a few good points here and there. It’s clearly meant to get members to vote for it, and nothing else. It just seems low effort, especially because the governor has already said he doesn’t like the sales tax increase.
Why couldn’t Democrats do this back in June? Come on, guys, the state’s being run by executive order and things are awful. Kids are going back to school soon and their towns are going to have a miserable time funding them.
When Democrats in the House refused to enact a so-called “mini-budget” that would have avoided some of the slow-motion disasters we’re starting to see play out now, it seemed they were doing so in order to produce something that would be much, much better. Something worth all the pain.
Instead, we get this. Thanks, guys. You tried, I guess.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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