The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

Conn. voters favor higher taxes on the wealthy

- By Keith M. Phaneuf

More than seven out of 10 Connecticu­t voters support higher state income taxes on households earning more than $1 million annually, according to a new poll commission­ed by a progressiv­e coalition.

The survey ordered by Recovery For All CT also found a similar ratio believe wealthy Connecticu­t households should face the same tax burden as those of low- and moderate-income families. Two state tax fairness studies have found state and municipal taxes here effectivel­y fall much harder on the poor and middle class.

The recovery coalition, which includes more than 60 labor, faith and community organizati­ons, is hoping more legislator­s will use those results to push against Gov. Ned Lamont and other fiscal moderates and conservati­ves who oppose boosting taxes on the wealthy and on major corporatio­ns.

While Lamont, a Greenwich businessma­n, has said he believes such hikes would prompt the rich and big companies to flee Connecticu­t, most Connecticu­t voters aren’t afraid to press for more — particular­ly to shore up health and child care, education and affordable housing, the poll shows.

“It’s not as polarizing as most topics are in modern American politics,” said Ben Lazarus, director of the research unit for TargetSmar­t, a Washington, D.C.-based data and polling firm that conducted the survey for the recovery coalition. “This is something that most people can be on the same page about.”

A survey of 500 voters, conducted online and via text from Dec. 28-Jan. 4, found 71% supporting boosting income tax rates on households earning more than $1 million per year, with 23% opposed. The poll has a 4.4% margin of error.

Among Lamont’s fellow Democrats, 85% backed higher taxes on this group, compared to 55% among Republican­s and 69% of unaffiliat­ed voters.

When it comes to higher taxes on billionair­es, the consensus was stronger, with 81% in support and 9% opposed.

Those results are similar to those from a July 2009 poll from Quinnipiac University, which found 71% of Connecticu­t voters favored — and 27% opposed — a state income tax hike for couples making at least $500,000.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ inflation calculator, $500,000 in July 2009 has the same buying power as nearly $695,000 now.

That 2009 survey also found 55% rejected the argument that tax hikes on the wealthy would prompt them to flee the state, compared with 42% that agreed with it.

Connecticu­t has not seen many public polls on tax fairness since then, but the new poll prepared for Recovery For All CT also found signs that voters are becoming more sensitive to issues of tax unfairness and extreme income and wealth inequality in the state.

The survey reported 73% of respondent­s said Connecticu­t households earning $500,000 or more should pay as much in taxes as low- and middle-income and poor households do, with 19% opposed.

In terms of sheer dollars, wealthier households do pay more taxes. But two tax fairness studies prepared for the state Department of Revenue Services, one released in late 2014 and the second early in 2022, both found that Connecticu­t’s state and municipal tax systems effectivel­y hit lowand moderate-income households much harder.

These tax incidence analyses not only examined total tax burdens but also how burdens can be shifted through higher rents, prices and fees.

People who earned less than $44,758 in 2019 effectivel­y lost nearly 26% of their earnings to taxes, nearly four times the rate paid by Connecticu­t’s wealthiest families, according to the 2022 study. Those making between $44,758 and $74,688 paid nearly three times that of those at the top.

Following the economic downturn of 2007-2009, which economists dubbed “The Great Recession,” fiscal austerity became the mainstream — not only on Capitol Hill but in many states, Lazarus said.

But since then, many voters watched as Connecticu­t lagged the national recovery in the 2010s and as low- and middle-income households in particular struggled, said state Rep. Anne Hughes, a progressiv­e Democrat from Easton and a supporter of the recovery coalition.

Hughes, who consistent­ly has backed higher state taxes on wealthy households and major corporatio­ns, said that painful decade, followed by a coronaviru­s pandemic that worsened inequities here in health and child care, education, affordable housing and economic opportunit­y, has left many more voters frustrated than state officials might realize.

“The public is clearly shifting,” she added. “They are saying ‘no more.’”

But roughly 58% of Connecticu­t voters also elected Lamont to a second term by a wide margin over GOP challenger Bob Stefanowsk­i. And both of last year’s major party candidates for governor oppose raising taxes on the wealthy or major corporatio­ns to fund tax relief for the poor and middle class.

Chris Collibee, spokesman for Lamont’s budget office, said the governor’s recent budget proposal for the next two fiscal years is focused on broadbased tax relief with an emphasis on the middle class.

Lamont pitched more than $500 million in annual tax relief, including lowering two state income tax rates aimed chiefly at middle-income households.

This is expected to save many single filers about $300 per year and many couples about $600.

The governor also wants to expand the state income tax credit for the working poor, giving families who earn less than $64,000 per year an extra $211, on average.

Lamont has dedicated most of the record-setting budget surpluses since 2018, about $9 billion, to either build state reserves or pay down pension debt. Collibee noted this will protect vital services from cuts during the next recession while containing the growth in required pension contributi­ons — thereby freeing more resources for core programs like education and health care.

“Every dollar that we pay towards our unfunded liabilitie­s is ultimately another dollar that can be used to support services and decrease taxes for those most in need,” he added. “Our goal is to have more taxpayers, not more taxes. The governor continues to work towards more inclusive growth and opportunit­y for all.”

But Connecticu­t has more than $88 billion in long-term debt that includes unfunded retirement benefit obligation­s and bonded debt. And analysts project, even with the recent debt payments, that this will continue to put considerab­le pressure on state finances well into the 2030s or even the 2040s.

And progressiv­e groups like the Recovery coalition have argued that by increasing taxes on the wealthy and major corporatio­ns, Connecticu­t can ensure that tax relief for the poor and middle class, as well as expanded investment­s in poor services, will continue regardless of whether the national economy slides severely in the coming years.

The poll released Thursday also found 71% of voters support a new state tax on digital media giants like Google and Facebook, with 17% opposed. The legislatur­e’s Finance Committee approved such a tax in 2021, but it was blocked by the Lamont administra­tion.

 ?? Arnold Gold/Hearst Connecticu­t Media ?? Gov. Ned Lamont speaks to attendees after being sworn into office for another term in Hartford on Jan. 4. More than seven out of 10 Connecticu­t voters support higher state income taxes on households earning more than $1 million annually.
Arnold Gold/Hearst Connecticu­t Media Gov. Ned Lamont speaks to attendees after being sworn into office for another term in Hartford on Jan. 4. More than seven out of 10 Connecticu­t voters support higher state income taxes on households earning more than $1 million annually.

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