Fresh off a successful lobby for changes to Connecticut’s campaign finance laws, progressive students at Yale have a new target in sight: the state tax law’s treatment of low-income workers.
The Yale College Democrats and Project Opportunity have partnered to lobby state legislators to establish a state Earned Income Tax Credit, a program that would refund money to low-income workers. Although an EITC has been passed on the federal level and in 19 states — including Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island — the issue has yet to attain a high profile in Connecticut, and the Yale students said they are hoping to change that.
“It is one of the more successful tax expenditure programs in terms of the value it gives for real people,” said state Rep. Tim O’Brien, a Democrat from New Britain. “It is a tremendous boost for people who are in low-wage employment.”
According to O’Brien, though local tax law may seem more arcane than glamorous, it can change the lives of Connecticut’s poorer residents when drafted wisely. For the past few years, O’Brien has regularly introduced a bill in the House that would establish a state EITC, but the bill has not yet come close to passing.
So far, the Yale students involved have met with O’Brien and New Haven state representatives and senators, including Democratic Rep. Bill Dyson and Sen. Martin Looney, the Senate majority leader, Yale College Democrats President Brendan Gants ’08 said. Gants said the group has had positive responses from those legislators.
“There is a very persuasive case that can be made for why Connecticut needs an EITC, but it’s just really important that the bill have champions who will push it strongly,” Gants said.
Dyson said the students lobbying for the proposal face a challenging task in getting legislators to pay attention to the potential benefits of an EITC. Nevertheless, he said he is optimistic that students can make the issue high-profile enough to get legislators to pay attention.
O’Brien said part of the challenge in creating a state EITC is a lack of political will in Hartford for spending money to establish new programs. As a result, he is also working toward reforming property-tax laws in ways that would help lower-income workers.
Irene Jay Liu ’04, author of a report by the advocacy group Annie E. Casey Foundation titled “The High Cost of Being Poor in New Haven,” said the federal EITC is an effective anti-poverty measure because it targets working families and does not require filling out forms beyond a tax return.
“On a federal level, the EITC is the single most successful way to lift working people out of poverty,” she said. “For many low-income families, they’re really living on the edge.”
According to the report, low-income New Haven residents received nearly $20 million of federal EITC money in 2002 alone. And Liu said because low-income families often have low rates of saving, most of that money is reinvested into the local economy as these families pay their bills and rent or make larger purchases, such as appliances.
“That income is spent, it’s not squirreled away,” she said. “There is a larger ripple effect that really does benefit the economy.”
The College Democrats and Project Opportunity first became aware of the potential impact of a state EITC after a member of Project Opportunity worked for Connecticut Voices for Children, a New Haven nonprofit that has dealt with the issue for a number of years, said Alissa Stollwerk ’06, a leader of Project Opportunity.
“We felt really strongly about lobbying for a very concrete piece of legislature that would immediately make a difference in people’s lives,” she said.
Stollwerk said the group had plans to next week with Connecticut Association for Human Services, another nonprofit that has advocated a state EITC.