Cutting state taxes, revenue might revive true liberalism

Published on Friday, 1 April 2022 21:15

Everybody in state government seems to love this tax-cutting stuff -- first the temporary suspension of Connecticut's 25-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax, and then a week of lifting the sales tax on most clothing purchases. The public will love it too.

But how happy will everybody be on July 1, as the election campaigns for governor and the General Assembly are intensifying, when the gas tax returns to the pumps with a bang? Even if there is peace in the world and gas prices have fallen substantially by then, there will be no hiding the big increase in taxation. Inflation, now running at perhaps double the government's heavily massaged official rate of 8%, may be declining by July as well, but it's likely to remain painful and the return of the gas tax may be doubly resented.

Meanwhile state government still will have enough cash on hand to afford extending the gas tax suspension to, say, Wednesday, November 9 -- the day after the election.

Extending the suspension beyond July might help some campaigns, but it also might cause people to start thinking that cutting taxes indefinitely isn't so bad.

Four years ago the Republican candidate for governor, Bob Stefanowski, who is likely to be renominated this year, was ridiculed by most right-thinking people and journalists for aiming to repeal the state income tax. But though Stefanowski was a neophyte to politics, his idea resonated anyway and he came much closer to winning than was expected, insofar as Connecticut is a heavily Democratic state.

Four years ago hundreds of thousands of benighted people seemed to think that the state income tax was not as much a boon as their betters thought it, and even thought that state government itself is not the comprehensive blessing the tax implied. Many of the benighted voted for Stefanowski even as they understood the impracticality of his position. They figured that his position might produce only limited results, but results nonetheless.

Repealing the income tax is not part of Stefanowski's platform this year. Instead he proposes cutting the sales tax, which, at 6.35%, is both high and regressive -- that is, more burdensome to people of lower incomes. So reducing the sales tax might appeal to liberals, if liberalism in Connecticut had not sunk to a mere rationalization for policies and programs that don't achieve their nominal objectives but at least sustain government's payroll.

In addition to being "progressive" -- favoring people of lower incomes -- cutting certain taxes indefinitely rather than merely suspending them for a few months or a week would have a big advantage. For reducing its revenue pressures government to become more efficient, and cutting taxes makes raising them again more difficult. Unlike repealing the income all at once, tax cutting can be done incrementally and steadily, easing government's adjustment to efficiency.

Cutting taxes incrementally but steadily also might eventually induce people who are most sensitive to serious but unaddressed human needs to become the most vigorous enemies of inefficiency and excess in government. That is, cutting taxes might revive true liberalism.

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POLITICAL BLACKMAIL: Should personal tax returns remain confidential short of court proceedings? (But of course not for Donald Trump, against whom anything goes.)

At least four of Connecticut's most liberal Democratic state legislators -- Reps. Josh Elliott of Hamden, Kate Farrar of West Hartford, Jack Hennessy of Bridgeport, and Michael Winkler of Vernon -- would end confidentiality. They have introduced legislation to allow eight legislative leaders to obtain individual tax returns from the state Revenue Services Department, supposedly to assist the legislators in studying Connecticut's tax system.

Several legislative leaders who would gain access to tax returns via the bill oppose its disclosure provision. But Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, is sympathetic. He says enough privacy could be retained if certain identifying information on returns is redacted.

Disagreeing, the leader of the House Republican minority, Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, notes that even with the redaction of names, many returns might be identifiable from their details, like sources of income.

The legislation seems intended mainly to facilitate political blackmail.

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

Posted in The Bristol Press, Column, Editorials on Friday, 1 April 2022 21:15. Updated: Friday, 1 April 2022 21:18.