Mayor backs property tax reform across state



While the Blue Ribbon Commission on Property Tax Burdens and Smart Growth Incentives may not have a very exciting name, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. is determined to get its message out to all of Connecticut.

Since the commission released a report in October recommending large-scale changes in how Connecticut raises revenues and uses its land, DeStefano has been traveling around the state speaking to just about anybody who will listen about the commission’s report. The mayor, who chaired the commission, addressed the Quinnipiac Chamber of Commerce Wednesday night, and he is scheduled to speak to the editorial boards of the Norwich Bulletin and the New London Day.

In the process of spreading information about the proposals, DeStefano is also interacting with political and media elites across the state — exposure that may help him as he explores a possible race for governor in 2006. While DeStefano said his efforts were not driven by a possible gubernatorial bid, he said he was discussing many of the same issues that might emerge in a DeStefano for Governor campaign.

“Everything I do is related to the exploration,” DeStefano said. “These are all mutually complementary. As a public figure, you can’t separate your professional life — from what you want to do later.”

But in a tight fiscal climate at the state level, several state officials and representatives said many of the larger proposals DeStefano is supporting — including raising the amount of education spending paid for by the state and increasing the state’s payments to cities to compensate for property tax exemptions — are unlikely to pass in the near future, if at all.

The report, which expresses concern about a loss of open space and an over-reliance on property taxes throughout Connecticut, recommends shifting over $1 billion of the property tax burden to the state.

State Rep. Lew Wallace, co-chair of the Planning and Development Committee, said the report raises important questions about the state’s future. But he said shifting more of the burden of education spending and other services to the state might not be a popular measure.

“If the state provides more money and it is accompanied by more strings, that’s a loss of local control,” said Wallace, a Democrat from Danbury. “I’m not sure if voters want that.”

State Rep. Craig Miner, ranking member on the Planning and Development Committee, said he did not favor policy changes that would require the state to raise income taxes so local governments could lower property taxes. Miner expressed concern that the commission produced recommendations that would hurt small towns and rural communities at the expense of larger cities.

“I think the mayor of New Haven works very hard on the issues that the city of New Haven faces. It’s not uncommon to see the mayor up [in Hartford] speaking on any issue that means more revenue for the city of New Haven,” said Miner, a Republican from Litchfield.” I’m optimistic that as this process continues, the rural voice will somehow enter into the debate.”

DeStefano said he does not expect the larger proposals to pass in the near future, but he said he was optimistic that the General Assembly will pass legislation next year commissioning studies to analyze tax burdens around the state and the costs associated with sprawl.

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