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Shock And Awe From Hizzoner

March 17, 2006
Editorial By Courant

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) is No.1.

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 education.

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. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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