New Haven to vote on Conn. tax reform

New Haven voters will consider a ballot question calling for tax reform this November, despite an unexpectedly contentious debate on the Board of Aldermen Tuesday night over how the city should push for a change in Connecticut’s tax system.

If approved by voters, the ballot question — which was introduced by New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and several allies on the board — would make no changes to local or state taxes, which are largely determined by the Connecticut General Assembly. Instead, supporters of the measure said a “yes” vote would serve as a show of public support for tax reform and push state legislators to address an issue that has gained little traction in Hartford.

The ballot question itself will ask New Haven residents whether they believe the state should reduce its “reliance” on local property taxes in favor of a more graduated income tax.

But less than two months before the election, several aldermen argued that neither they nor their constituents were being given enough time to discuss tax reform. In addition, opponents of the measure said while they supported the spirit of the effort, they worried that it would confuse New Haven voters.

“I think we all want to see tax reform, but I don’t want to see it hit the polls and flop,” Ward 11 Alderman Robert Lee said. “To put something before people who don’t understand, you’re almost ensuring yourselves of a flop.”

The ballot question ultimately passed the Board of Aldermen by a large margin of 20-8, and its supporters said they believed it was important to achieve a public show of support from city residents as soon as possible. But after several aldermen complained that the sponsors had introduced the ballot question too soon before the election and given their colleagues little information about it, some of the measure’s sponsors apologized.

“On the issue of informing our colleagues, clearly we dropped the ball on that one,” said Ward 9 Alderwoman Elizabeth Addonizio GRD ’06, one of the question’s sponsors. “[But] things happen, and they happen fast, particularly when you engage the public. Believe me, I think this will move things at the state level faster than anything else we can do.”

While New Haven actually ran a surplus during the fiscal year that ended in June, the city previously suffered from deficits that resulted in three consecutive tax increases as well as budget cuts. DeStefano and other city leaders have blamed the city’s fiscal troubles on Connecticut laws that require cities and towns to receive the vast majority of their funding from state aid and local property taxes.

Last year, DeStefano headed a statewide commission that released a series of recommendations concerning an overhaul of the state’s tax system. The Board of Aldermen also created a separate panel this year that will explore new ways for the city to raise money, as well as the impact of Yale on city revenues.

Members of the Revenue Commission said its work so far has focused almost exclusively on gathering information about New Haven’s current fiscal status, leaving larger questions about city policy for future meetings. While Jonathan Einhorn, the chairman of the Revenue Commission, said he expected the panel to tackle the question of Yale’s effect on the city’s tax rolls, the commission’s work so far has been relatively uncontroversial.

“I don’t think at this point there’s been any dispute from any direction as to what to look at,” Einhorn said. “The issues certainly will become more contentious when we attempt to draft a report.”

Yusef Shah (left) and Joseph Jolly speak after Tuesday’s Board of Aldermen meeting where officials voted to add a tax reform question to the ballot.
Jacob Leibenluft
Yusef Shah (left) and Joseph Jolly speak after Tuesday’s Board of Aldermen meeting where officials voted to add a tax reform question to the ballot.

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