It’s election season again, and so it’s time to save our state with new and innovative tax plans from our gubernatorial candidates. It certainly isn’t time to recycle stale ideas from the past or propose unrealistic nonsense!
Yeah, you know where this is going.
Your tax plan is bad, Bob Stefanowski
Let’s start with the obvious first. Bob Stefanowski won a crowded Republican primary by getting on the air early and by having a crystal clear campaign message: cut taxes. Specifically, Stefanowski wants to eliminate the corporate income tax within two years, the personal income tax within eight years, and eliminate the two taxes rich people hate the most — the gift and estate taxes — right away.
Where to even begin.
Eliminating any tax at all right now would be a serious risk, because the amount of money flowing into the state’s coffers has consistently been missing targets set by the government for almost the entire Malloy administration, and despite some recent strong quarters it’s not hard to see us going back to that.
But eliminating the income tax? Really?
Stefanowski’s rationale for getting rid of income taxes is based on a serious misreading of history. He points to the fact that Connecticut’s economy was one of the strongest in the nation from 1976 to 1991, and one of the worst after. He uses 1991 as the break point, the point where the income tax was enacted and we entered economic free-fall. Simple, right?
It’s almost as if Bob wasn’t here in the 1980s and 1990s. Fortunately, I was. Here’s what happened.
Connecticut’s economy in the 1980s was an absolute miracle. We benefited from two massive booms: in defense spending and insurance. We had tons of defense contractors here, and the Reagan administration absolutely buried the defense industry in cash during that final decade of the Cold War.
The insurance industry was also experiencing growth, as was real estate and plenty of other sectors of the economy where Connecticut excelled. Hartford was one of the epicenters of this activity, and there was tons of money to go around. Look at the skyline of Hartford, and you’ll see skyscrapers that were mostly built during the 1980s.
State government, during that time, made a few critical errors. First, they bowed to public pressure following a horrific accident at a toll plaza and removed tolls from the highways. Secondly, they took Connecticut’s teacher salaries from one of the worst in the nation to the best. Because the state was rolling in dough, they didn’t attempt to offset those losses in any serious way.
Then the recession of the early 1990s happened. Factories closed, old standby industries collapsed, and unemployment skyrocketed. Worse, the Cold War came to an end, and defense spending was drastically cut.
We never recovered. That recession has defined the 30 years between then and now.
The income tax was a desperation move. It was a reaction to a deep and terrifying crisis, and to an economy that was already in free-fall. Lowell Weicker was my first political hero because he had the guts to do what had to be done.
So, combine the fact that we simply can’t get back to what we were in the 1980s, because that world is gone, with the disastrous decisions of the Rowland, Rell, and Malloy administrations to sign disastrous deals with state employee unions, neglect to fund their pensions, and then keep extending the deal with worse and worse conditions, and you get 2018.
Cutting taxes isn’t time travel, Bob. Try again.
Your Tax Plan is Bad, Ned Lamont
Ned’s plan is a lot less bad than Bob’s, but it suffers from the same kind of magical thinking about where the money is going to come from.
Lamont wants to restore a middle-class property tax credit that shrank under the Malloy administration, which would cost around $400 million. He plans to pay for it by making cuts at an already cash-strapped Department of Correction, increasing collections at the Department of Revenue Services, and by implementing sports betting.
Just reading that gives me heartburn. It reminds me of every hopeful-but-ultimately-futile gambit attempted by the Malloy administration to balance the budget over the past seven years. How is Lamont going to make collections more efficient? Isn’t implementing sports betting going to require tons of negotiation and result in a completely unknown amount of revenue?
In short, yeah, that’s not going to happen. If Ned Lamont wants to distance himself from Dan Malloy, he’s going to need to do a lot better than that.
So, low marks all around. Let’s hope these plans improve before the debates.
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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