A question I always ask myself on pending legislation is “what problem does this solve?” The answer should be concise, clear and offer a viable solution. To me, our biggest responsibility as lawmakers are finding real and pragmatic solutions.
With that in mind, two key proposals are getting a good deal of attention these days: 1. state control of local zoning and 2. a new state-wide property tax. Both of these proposals are purported to address urban poverty, though it’s unclear how these proposals will do that.
First, the state-wide new property tax proposal would establish a one mill statewide tax on all commercial and residential real property. The first $300,000 of assessed value would be exempted from the tax. The nickname of “Mansion tax” is a misnomer as the vast majority of properties in southwestern Connecticut are over $300,000 and are not mansions. The revenue would be redistributed largely to the urban districts.
Implementing another progressive tax will only speed the departure of people and businesses from the state. According to the IRS, Connecticut had a net income loss of more than $12 billion between 2012 and 2018 due to out-migration. In addition to the loss of tax revenue, we lose the philanthropic contributions, as well. Another tax is not a solution that will fix our/Connecticut’s fiscal situation. We have multiple opportunities as suggested by the Fiscal Stability & Economic Growth Report to find efficiencies in state agencies rather than burdening the hard working people of our state with yet another tax. Sending people out of the state will not solve the problem of urban poverty.
Another proposal gaining steam is state control of local zoning. Some of these proposals include the right to build multi-family units anywhere within a half mile of a train/transit station, reduced parking requirements for developments and municipal housing authorities would be able to develop housing an additional 15 miles radius outside their current towns of jurisdiction. As proposed, none of these would need to go through local Planning & Zoning Commissions. The goal of this from Hartford bureaucrats is to encourage development of more affordable housing in “high opportunity zones.”
A more practical alternative to create more affordable housing in towns is by allowing accessory dwelling units (sometimes known as "granny” apartments) in certain zones; changing affordable housing thresholds based on specific income levels of municipalities — one size does not fit all and 10 percent is not a magic number. Facilitating owner-occupied housing supported by a mortgage assistance program for people who are employed — a system of starter homes helping working people to the middle class creates opportunities.
It’s worth noting that both of these highly controversial proposals are sponsored by urban Democrats who have controlled Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport for a combined 148 years since 1953. These very areas that are still rife with problems and need structural and comprehensive attention. The near total dysfunction in the urban districts has been under their watch and yet they seem intent on basically giving up on these areas instead of offering reasonable solutions grounded in reality.
The far left wing of the Democratic party is pushing this progressive platform of centralized social planning by Hartford bureaucrats and Ivory Tower academics. Providing state government all out power to control local zoning is not the best solution to solving our state’s problems and is the wrong path as it would further push our state into further financial instability.
Please let me know your thoughts on these issues. Also, please consider giving public testimony on these and any of the related proposals. CT169Strong.org is a website that has up-to-date information on the zoning legislation being proposed. I’ll be following up this column with alternative solutions to the critical need of addressing urban poverty.
As elected representatives, it is our job to listen to you. Always, for the people and by the people. You may sign up for my emails and get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org and 860-240-8700.
This article originally appeared in The Darien Times on March 4th, 2021.