Most people seem to like Governor Lamont's proposal to reduce from 45 to 29 mills the state's limit on municipal property taxes on cars and to have state government reimburse the revenue lost by municipalities that have car tax rates above 29 mills. The proposal supposedly would save people a lot of money.
But there's not really any money to be saved here. For the car tax reimbursements would cost state government $160 million per year, so what people gained in one pocket they would lose from another – losing whatever else state government could do for them with that $160 million.
People who own homes or rent apartments but don't own cars – many city residents – might prefer that $160 million to be spent reimbursing residential property taxes, not car taxes.
Poor people might prefer that $160 million to be spent on improving their state medical insurance.
Retail merchants might like the money spent to reduce the sales tax.
Many people might prefer using the money to reduce their state income tax.
Government employees might prefer that $160 million to be spent on their raises and pensions. And so on.
The more serious argument for the cap on car taxes is not savings at all but rearranging Connecticut's tax burden, shifting it a little from municipal governments, which can raise substantial revenue only from their property tax, to state government, which has many ways of raising revenue, and from the poor to the better-off.
The car tax is said to be terribly regressive – that is, falling more heavily on poor people. But this is exaggerated. Car taxes are light on old clunkers and heavy on new and expensive cars.
More than burdensome, car taxes are simply annoying. Unlike the property tax on residential and business property, which for many people is built into monthly mortgage payments, for most people car tax bills, though predictable, show up unexpectedly in the mail, since few people escrow funds for them.
But the car tax capping proposal raises an interesting question: If Connecticut can limit property taxes on cars, why can't the state cap municipal property taxes generally, as some other states have done?
The car tax cap has been proposed only because state government is flush with emergency money from the federal government. Sustaining the cap for more than a year or two will require big appropriations when that federal money is gone.
Capping property taxes not just on cars but on everything else would require huge new state government appropriations for municipal government revenue reimbursements, and maybe extensive regulations on how municipalities could spend the state money. Or else it would require unprecedented restraint on municipal spending, most of which goes for municipal government employees, whose unions are usually the most politically influential group in any town.
So the car tax cap may prove to be no more than a gubernatorial election-year gimmick and then be raised or allowed to expire once the governor and legislators are re-elected, imagining that they can propose the cap again four years hence on the eve of the next gubernatorial election.
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WHAT ACCOUNTABILITY?: A rookie state trooper caught shoplifting at a gun store in Newington last year will suffer only a 10-day suspension and a transfer from the Hartford barracks to the barracks in Danielson, according to the Connecticut Examiner.
Meanwhile a state police spokesman acknowledges that the department's investigation into a trooper's retirement party at a brew pub in Oxford 2½ years ago has concluded without more discipline than the light punishment imposed on a sergeant who drove away drunk in his state car and caused a serious crash.
Other troopers were said to have been drinking at the party and to have driven away in state cars, contrary to regulations. But the department concluded that it could not prove such misconduct – after long seeming not to want to investigate it seriously enough to prove it.
Democratic state legislators act as if police accountability involves only mistreatment of minority groups. Republican legislators don't want to press the accountability issue at all. This is leaving plenty of room for misconduct.
Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.