Credit Mayor Eddie Perez for using
shock therapy to bring attention to the looming property tax bombshell
in Hartford and other municipalities.
Mr. Perez has come out for turning
the burdensome property tax into a surrogate local income tax. Under
his plan, what you pay in property taxes would depend on your annual
income and on whether you live on the property. If you own residential
property in Hartford but don't live there, you would pay through
the nose. But even if you live in the house, you would still pay
considerably higher property taxes than your next-door neighbor
would if your income exceeds a threshold established by city hall.
The idea is jolting, all right - and
has as much a chance of receiving the General Assembly's required
blessing as a hen hatching a codfish from a fried egg.
Set aside a possible constitutional
hang-up over unequal or discriminatory taxation. Don't think too
hard how the city would constantly keep track of where property
owners live and what their incomes during any given year would be.
Let's imagine software exists to tax each square foot of land based
on criteria other than the assessed value. Believe, if you will,
that an out-of-town landlord, hit with skyrocketing property taxes,
would not raise the rent.
Even if all such problems were unduly
alarmist, the Perez solution would still pose a formidable challenge
to a city that is trying hard to encourage investment. A city struggling
to attract middle- and upper income residents wouldn't exactly be
rolling out the welcome mat.
Our federal, state and local tax systems
are confounding enough. They need simplification, not further complications.
Connecticut towns and cities rely more
on property taxes than their counterparts in most states. Census
figures for 2002 show per capita property levies in Connecticut
($1,733) being the second highest in the nation. New Jersey ($1,871)
In recent years, property values have
shot up in Hartford, which along with other municipalities is required
by law to periodically revalue its grand list. The required reassessment,
which has been postponed, could lead to substantially higher residential
property taxes. That's undoubtedly a serious problem.
The appropriate legislative response
is not giving Hartford a sub rosa city income tax but to get serious
about reducing the overall property tax burden. Many other states
do a better job than Connecticut in aid to cities and towns. Most
dramatically, Hawaii's public education system is financed by the
state. Michigan allocates a portion of its state sales tax to local
If the state refuses to repatriate
more money, how about allowing municipalities to enact a half-percent
income tax? Better still, how about getting serious about regional
solutions through revenue-sharing arrangements that reflect, say,
the taxable assets of Greater Hartford, not just Hartford?
We consider Mr. Perez's dramatic proposal
to be a cry for help aimed at the legislature and not a road map
for a coherent tax system.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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