This is the time of year when towns across Connecticut are supposed to adopt their budgets - but this year voters, fed up with ever-increasing property taxes, are just saying no. In Prospect, Newtown, Coventry, Tolland, Vernon and Easton, voters have either voted down budgets bloated by increased property taxes or forced them to referendum.
I said when I announced my plan to impose a property tax cap that there would be a property tax revolt in our state if action was not taken - and the people will be right to revolt. The daffodils and tulips are not the only things in bloom right now. Discontent over taxes is blossoming across our state.
Voters are saying "Enough!" because they are being forced from their homes, forced into leaving the communities where they were born and raised - because they cannot afford their property taxes. It is euphemistic to say they are "leaving." It is more accurate to say that enormous and ever-escalating property taxes are running them out of town on a rail.
Over the past five years, Connecticut property owners have seen their property taxes soar by a stunning 30 percent. Homes owned for generations by the same families are being sold because the newest generation cannot afford property taxes that rise an average of 6 percent a year.
An average increase of 6 percent is staggering - consider that it means your property taxes will double in less than 10 years - but what if you do not live in an "average" town? What if you live in Beacon Falls, where taxes skyrocketed by an average of 12.6 percent a year over the ast five years? Or in Killingly, where they exploded by 15.7 percent in 2003-2004? Or in Bristol, where they increased 14 percent that same year?
Forty-three states have limits on property taxes, but Connecticut is not among them. Twenty-nine states have statutory caps on property taxes. Rhode Island and New York have caps. Massachusetts has had one for 27 years. Even New Jersey, with the highest property taxes in the nation, recently passed a tax-cap bill, which the governor signed into law.
Massachusetts used to have the highest property taxes in the nation - until 1980, when it adopted a cap. It now ranks seventh, and since the cap its average property tax increases have been below the national average.
My call for property tax relief is not a new idea. Many campaigning legislators have pledged "property tax reform." But it has never been needed more.
Now that New Jersey has adopted a cap, guess who will hold the dubious distinction of having the highest property taxes in the country? That's right: the Nutmeg State.
The property tax is the most burdensome and most regressive tax on the books. Property taxes hit seniors particularly hard, eating up a share of their fixed incomes big enough to drive many of them out of their homes.
Property taxes take more money out of taxpayers' wallets than the income tax. In Connecticut, property taxes raise about $8 billion a year; the income tax raises $6 billion. And property taxes are as uncontrollable as gas prices - rising each and every year with no end in sight. They will continue to rise like Mount Everest until we make a cap the law of the land.
Connecticut's taxpayers, under siege from unrelenting taxes, need immediate relief. The problem is not confined to senior citizens being taxed out of their homes even though their mortgages have long been paid off.
It also affects young people who do not even consider buying a house in towns where they were raised because of prohibitive property taxes.
Connecticut's property taxes are almost double the national average. We pay more than our neighbors in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. Why? Because those states have property tax caps.
It is a simple concept: Limit how much the property tax can legally be raised. That's it. The people getting hammered by ever-increasing property taxes understand my plan. Why can't the Democrats in the legislature?
Caps the amount that towns can raise their property taxes at 3 percent a year.
Permits growth above the cap indexed to above-average growth in a town's grand list.
Makes exceptions to the cap for emergencies such as natural disasters or fires.
Allows voters in each town to override the cap. It lets the decision be made by the people who actually pay the taxes.
Lawmakers this session have passed bills banning trans-fats in restaurants and requiring the calorie labeling of foods. But what people of Connecticut are really having trouble digesting are huge tax bills and towns' insatiable appetite for local property taxes.
Politicians here have been talking about property tax relief for a quarter of a century. It is time to deliver. The people want it. They need it. Everybody else has it. Let's do it.
M. Jodi Rell is the Republican governor of Connecticut.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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