Connecticut Post (Sunday)
Property tax overhaul must be explored
Connecticut residents are highly taxed, but despite what some of the loudest voices might say, the burden falls harder on the lower end of the wealth spectrum than the higher end.
State lawmakers get plenty of criticism over taxes in Connecticut, but the levy that might hit the hardest is one over which they have little control. It also may have the biggest impact on public policy.
Property taxes in Connecticut vary widely from one town to the next. When the mill rate is combined with the assessed value of a home, it makes up the biggest revenue source for local governments, the largest chunk of which is used to fund schools. That means the amount of money available to pay for education in neighboring communities could vary greatly, as well as the rate of taxation.
It’s a regressive, outdated system that has long been due for an overhaul.
Adding to the trouble is that towns and cities have few options when facing a shortfall than to raise property taxes. That means urban centers, which saw manufacturing decline over the second half of the 20th century, were forced to raise tax rates to exorbitant heights, putting the burden on remaining homeowners to make up what was lost from fleeing businesses.
The result is a vicious cycle that makes it harder for cities to attract new investment while giving them less money than they need to pay for public services.
A proposal from House Finance Chair Sean Scanlon, a Guilford Democrat, could change that system. It’s based on Massachusetts’ decades- old law that sets a 2.5 percent limit on annual property tax increases, and it could help ease the burden on our highest- taxed municipalities. The specifics of the proposal, including what level a limit might be set at, have yet to be worked out, but it’s an idea that deserves consideration.
Connecticut residents are highly taxed, but despite what some of the loudest voices might say, the burden falls harder on the lower end of the wealth spectrum than the higher end. Much of that is because of property taxes. Among the long- term goals, Scanlon says, is to provide incentives for towns and cities to consolidate and regionalize services, putting spending under control. “If we continue down the path of maintaining 169 small kingdoms, we’re going to run out of money,” Scanlon told the CT Mirror.
We hear some variation on that theme every legislative session. It was part of the thinking behind Gov. Ned Lamont’s vision to combine some school services or face penalties, which came up in his first year in office. That proposal, which critics said amounted to merging urban and suburban classrooms, went nowhere.
Connecticut fights hard to maintain local control. Whether it’s housing, schools, zoning or development, each town appears to want to go its own way. There’s an ugly history roiling under the surface that involves finding quaint justifications for keeping people out who don’t look the same, but it’s not only about that. Old habits are sometimes simply hard to break.
Something has to give. Regionalization is key to our future, and limiting property tax increases could be a way to get there. There’s no proposal for a statewide mill rate, but maybe that’s in the offing, too. Whatever form it takes, communities need to find more ways to work together.