CHRIS POWELL: Governor is better on taxes but not as good as he claims

Published on Wednesday, 10 November 2021 20:55
Written by CHRIS POWELL

Construing the results of the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections as rebukes for his party that justify his politically moderate stance, Governor Lamont remarked last week that he is Connecticut's "first governor in 30 years who didn't raise taxes."

Lamont, a Democrat, is far better on taxes than his predecessor and most of his party's members in the General Assembly. But his claim about his record on taxes wasn't quite right. For along with his party's majority in the legislature, the governor imposed a special state income tax of a half percent to finance a program of family and medical leave for private-sector workers.

The program strikes a politically correct pose but it's not much to boast about. It is essentially a very limited form of self-insurance, something anyone could have arranged for himself with an ordinary savings account. While the program can be used only for family and medical leave, an ordinary savings account could be used for any personal emergency, not just to replace income lost from taking time off from work but for car or home repairs or medical expenses.

People who never need family or medical leave will never recover what they pay in the special half-percent income tax. But people who self-insure with an ordinary savings account will always have access to their money. Thus the leave program creates a state agency to do less for people than what they could do on their own.

In addition, the governor keeps advocating what is called the Transportation Climate Initiative, a new tax on gasoline at the wholesale level, where it can be hidden, even as gasoline and other energy costs are exploding.

Its relative restraint on taxes is not that much to the Lamont administration's credit, since it has been enabled in large part by hundreds of millions of dollars of emergency aid from the federal government for recovering from the virus epidemic. When that money stops raining down on Connecticut, the relative restraint on taxes may end – conveniently after next November's gubernatorial and legislative elections.

But even with all that federal money, the Lamont administration is essentially pleading poverty in regard to at least $30 million in unemployment compensation benefits mistakenly paid to Connecticut residents since the epidemic began, two-thirds of which state government must repay to the federal government.

Few of the mistakes were fraud. Most resulted from misunderstood rules, use of an antiquated computer system, rehirings that weren't promptly reported, other changing conditions, and a ten-fold increase in weekly claims that inevitably overwhelmed the state Labor Department.

Yet having recently suffered serious unemployment, many recipients of the mistaken payments remain poor and can hardly afford to pay the money back.

State government could pay it back for them by appropriating the necessary funds.

But the Lamont administration is negotiating new contracts with the state employee unions, contracts that are likely to provide generous raises, and on top of that the unions want "hero" pay for having worked during the epidemic. It's no matter to the unions that the epidemic cost hundreds of thousands of private-sector workers their jobs and wrecked them financially.

Maybe Connecticut will see who really counts when the poor are forced to repay their unemployment compensation while state government employees who never lost a day of work get raises again.

There seems to be plenty of money to waste over at the state police department, which last week announced the resolution of a scandal.

A sergeant who more than two years ago got drunk at a state police retirement party at a brew pub in Oxford and caused a serious car crash in Southbury as he drove away, injuring two people, has resigned. But he did so only after receiving a cushy plea bargain and remaining on the payroll all the while, even collecting overtime during his criminal probation.

Supposedly state police officials have been investigating other possible misconduct at the party – evidence that other troopers were drinking and driving, contrary to department regulations. But now that more than two years have passed, it seems that the regulations are being waived and one case of discipline is all the department can stand.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.



Posted in The Bristol Press, Column on Wednesday, 10 November 2021 20:55. Updated: Wednesday, 10 November 2021 20:57.