The Southington Town Council sent a strong, pointed message to the town’s state legislators this week: Something needs to be done about the constant unfunded mandates and changes to tax structure such as the proposal to eliminate the car tax or it will leave Connecticut’s municipalities unable to make ends meet.
The answer coming from State Sen. Joseph Markley and state representatives Al Adinolfi, Rob Sampson and David Zoni was equally as direct: we agree.
The constant changes to the state’s budget, led in part by a growing deficit that has led Connecticut to the highest per capita debt in the nation, has left officials on both sides of the aisle concerned that something needs to change and it appears the legislators are prepared to take a stand.
“It’s disheartening that we are spending more money yet again,” Markley said. “(Since last year) we’ve been back to the legislature multiple times to fill in the gaps and are borrowing to keep the state’s lights on. I have no kind words for the governor’s budget.”
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The state legislators met with the council this week in an effort to share thoughts and address town needs. Council Chairman John Dobbins, a Republican, and Democratic Councilman John Barry each said they are concerned by growing costs coming with state mandates such as phosphorus removal from the Quinnipiac and the new State Core Standards for schools.
While occasional mandates may be necessary, Sampson said they are a growing concern for a number of legislators who realize their communities can’t handle additional costs for legislation that does not appear to benefit them.
One mandate that could soon be coming down the road is the implementation of a program that would regulate car taxes in all of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities – and right now, the proposal presented by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy aims to eliminate the car tax altogether.
In Southington, that would mean a cut of $9 million in revenue instantly. Paired with other cuts as presented in Malloy’s budget, including elimination of PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) and Pequot grants, Barry said it’s leaving towns in a tough position.
“Tthe mill rate would be 28.15. We are looking at a big jump,” Barry said.
But the likelihood of the car tax simply being eliminated doesn’t look like a realistic conclusion to Malloy’s proposal according to the legislators, all of which said change may be coming in the form of a statewide car tax mill rate.
Zoni said the goal of such a mill rate would be to provide a uniform cost for every resident. The tax would still be collected by towns and used as part of annual revenue for communities.
Sampson, however, said he doesn’t believe that a change is needed. He said he would rather individual towns continue to implement the tax just as they do on real estate and personal property. He said changing the car tax at this stage would be unfair to some municipalities and not in the best interest of the towns.
He said the car tax is a distraction from other problems facing the state.
“The car tax is distraction, something to diverge from the focus on the large increase in state spending,” Sampson said. “I think it’s fair for different communities to charge for taxes. Sound choices need to be made to keep taxes low and attract the businesses and people who live there. If we start eliminating that competition, then I think we have lost our mission.”
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