Tax Relief

The Day – Lamont finances requires tax relief ultimately

In the final State of the State address of his first term in office, Gov. Ned Lamont was mindful of repeatedly thanking the people of Connecticut for the way the state has met the challenges of the Covid pandemic that hit halfway into his first term.

The Democratic governor delivered his speech with a record to defend in the warm-up season for his re-election campaign. The same campaign timing applies to the lawmakers who gathered Wednesday in the state House of Representatives to hear the governor’s proposals for this, the so-called short session meant to focus on updating the $24 billion second year of the biennial budget.

Budget discussions will begin with the governor’s proposal for a 2.4 percent increase in appropriations and his administration’s recommendations for allocating the second year of federal Covid relief funds. The two caucuses — the Democrat majority and the Republican minority — have already been setting their own priorities. How those will implement or contest the governor’s proposals is the process that begins now and ends in May, presumably with a budget ready to go July 1.

Budget negotiators will have the advantage of working with a surplus. Connecticut’s fiscal situation has improved greatly in the past three years, allowing the state to pay toward its legacy pension debt and improve its borrowing status. Last spring came the infusion of federal Covid relief funds, which will continue through another fiscal year. The rainy day fund is brimful.

Getting around to a promise he made when he last ran for governor, Lamont is proposing tax relief for the average Connecticut household. His proposal calls for a cap on the automobile tax, which is a state tax collected by municipalities for their use. It hits hard car owners in towns with high mill rates. The proposal would limit the tax to 29 mills and reimburse communities that had been budgeting for more.

The Day has advocated for this before, but like all property taxpayers and our local officials, we have seen what happens in subsequent budget years. Both parties in the legislature would need to commit to sustaining the relief long-term. The same applies to a proposal to expand the property tax credit value from $200 to $300 and restore eligibility to an estimated 1.1 million taxpayers. The governor is also proposing speeding up the elimination of the state income tax on pension and 401(K) income for tax filers under certain incomes.

Probably the least partisan of all issues before the legislature is a priority that lawmakers have already been working on for months: systemic support for mental health measures that will benefit children and young people. School districts have been vocal about the distress their students are expressing and acting upon. We recognize the urgency and suggest that increased support also come from the current fiscal year budget, so that the hiring of counselors and other measures can be ramped up even before FY 2023 funding goes into effect July 1.

A proposal that ought to be a shoo-in in Connecticut, but will probably meet some opposition, is easier to continue absentee voting, not just as an emergency measure during a pandemic, but all the time. Voting access has never been more critical.

Public safety proposals will have a hard time finding consensus. The governor proposes to increase and diversify state and local police and said he would appoint more judges to address the backlog in the state’s court system. Most people will see the prudence and fairness in that. On the other hand, Lamont’s proposals for stricter regulation of gun sales and ownership got immediate pushback from some legislative Republicans when it was announced Monday. The Day supports both moves, having repeatedly advocated for such steps.

The spotlight shifts to the General Assembly now. Individual lawmakers and legislative committees will be submitting their own bills in the coming days. Data sharing from online gaming and sports betting is expected to come up. There is an urgent need for legislators to review a report the governor didn’t mention — the findings of the State Contract Standards Board that raise serious questions not only about the way the Connecticut Port Authority does business but its legal standing for entering into the agreement underlies the State Pier project.

We look forward to hearing the priorities of the southeastern Connecticut delegation.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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