As Connecticut residents, all of us have much to be proud of…a diverse and vibrant population, beautiful coastlines and an inspired history. However, our state’s fiscal status is not among our best assets. In fact, we continue with record deficits and a legacy of record tax increases without the revenues for a balanced budget.
One-party rule has led to over-taxation and over-regulation of our people and businesses to the extreme. And now, Democrats have an aggressive, yet stealth, new tax scheme: Councils of Government (COG’s).
There’s been a concerted push by Democrats in Hartford to regionalize property tax revenues via the COG’s. Under the guise of creating ‘regional efficiencies’, they seek to spread the state’s financial burden to municipalities. Simply put, regionalizing is another way to collect tax revenue without it looking like “traditional” taxation.
COG’s originated in 2015 with Senate Bill 1, co-introduced by Senator Bob Duff. This bill looked to make significant changes in our state’s property tax system. The first iteration had all ‘car property taxes’ payable directly to CT Department of Revenue Services, instead of to individual municipalities, as is done now. The outcry was instant against this part of SB 1 that would have pulled significant revenue from both Darien and Norwalk. To maintain current service levels, our towns would have had to compensate by raising local taxes.
Although this ‘car-property tax’ was eventually eliminated, a key SB 1 provision remained, establishing a property tax base revenue-sharing program. Today, Darien and Norwalk are part of WestCOG, along with 16 other towns, with each town CEO holding one vote. As currently written, revenue sharing would be implemented only if all town CEOs within a COG agreed to “share 20% of property tax generated by the growth in commercial and industrial tax bases since 2013.”
Just this past May, Democrats put an amendment on the budget bill (within the last 48 hours of the legislative session) to study a proportional voting structure of COG’s, i.e. determine the impact of increased representation on regional COG’s for municipalities with populations of at least 50,000. Their aim is to enable urban towns greater representation within COG’s to outvote smaller communities and, thereby, gain from wealth transfer.
Under Democratic one-party rule, this steady move toward economic socialization in Connecticut continues its pace. In draft legislation for the next session, Democrats want to consolidate and regionalize our local health departments. Again, the fiscal impact would be significant for Darien, e.g. our town health budget of $297k would increase to $2.1 million to meet its regionalization health budget requirement. We’d not only lose local control, we would pay more for it.
To offset past spending sprees, Democrats continually opt for new ways to tax rather than put in place common-sense policies to grow state revenue. We know COG’s are essentially a ploy to redistribute wealth for use in repairing systemic poverty endemic to the Democratically-controlled urban towns… Bridgeport, New Haven, Waterbury and Hartford.
Taxpayers in smaller, suburban and rural communities already bear an important proportion of the financial responsibility supporting core government services in our four largest cities. It does not seem practical, though, to ask our towns to pay significantly more in taxes through regionalization of municipal revenues when the spending programs from Hartford are already so broken, so inefficient and so devoid of common sense.
Unlike my Democratic colleagues, I support a governing philosophy that believes largely in local control with a “bottom-up, grass roots” approach. Many of us see efficiencies at the town level. While there are times when sharing resources and consolidating between towns make sense, it should be at the discretion of these towns and not a forced, top down mandate.
Conversely, a more expansive regional government risks becoming totally detached from the people needing services. A prime example is delivery of our state’s human services that since 1991 and that has morphed, with regionalization, such that they now are coordinated virtually 100% at the state level. Sadly, Hartford is not spending less or spending smarter, nor are we serving the people who need these human services with greater efficiency.
Let’s work together to solve our critical fiscal issues without resorting to a new, totally unacceptable Connecticut regional tax sharing structure. Simply…beware of COG’s – this is a new layer of bureaucracy and taxation and a revenue grab by Hartford Democrats and Governor Malloy. Electing more Democrats will only empower and embolden this misguided strategy.
Your voice and vote count on November 8th.
An original version of this article ran in the Darien Times on Oct. 20, 2016.