Listen to some Democrats talk about M. Jodi Rell’s State of the State address, and the Republican governor starts to sound like she’s out to scam Connecticut taxpayers with sleight-of-hand budget tricks.
Both of the Democratic mayors running to replace Rell as governor, as well as Democratic House Speaker Jim Amann, have described Rell’s budget proposal released last Wednesday as a “shell game,” evoking images of three-card monte to belittle her tax proposal. The Rell plan featured a proposal to eliminate a municipal tax on cars and replace the funds by removing a $350 deduction from the state income tax now given to home owners.
But Rell’s supporters contend that the governor is not misleading Connecticut’s voters with her proposal to eliminate the municipal car tax, which many Democrats also consider unfair.
“Our analysis is that the large majority of taxpayers in the state of Connecticut would benefit and would receive more tax relief under this program,” Rell spokesman John Wiltse said. “It solves a very large inequity that has been part of the Connecticut tax system for many years … that urban dwellers pay much higher vehicle taxes than non-urban residents.”
But Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy, who is running for governor as a Democrat, said in a statement that although he supports removing the car tax, he doubts whether Rell’s plan would benefit taxpayers.
“The governor is playing a classic shell game: she pays for this so-called ‘tax cut’ by eliminating the $350 income tax credit … and uses casino money which is already used to help cities and towns,” Malloy said.
In an interview at a Sunday rally in New Haven, Malloy said he thought Rell was being “deliberately misleading” in her proposal.
New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who is also seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, has also characterized Rell’s tax proposal as a “cynical shell game.” DeStefano’s director of policy and research, Michele Jacklin, said Rell’s tax proposal was an “election-year convenience.”
But some state Democrats, such as Rep. Tim O’Brien of New Britain, have praised Rell for opening a dialogue on property tax reform. O’Brien said that for years he has advocated reforms to what he said was Connecticut’s overreliance on property taxes.
Under Rell’s proposals, Larry Perosino, a spokesman for Democrats in the state House of Representatives, said those who do not own cars would be hurt the most because they would lose the $350 property tax credit without benefiting from the elimination of car taxes.
But Wiltse said not all homeowners receive the full $350 credit under current law. Only individuals who earn between $24,860 and $55,000 per year are eligible for the full credit, according to information from the state budget office.
“Obviously, if they don’t own a car or a motorcycle, then they would not be saving anything, but that doesn’t mean they would be losing up to $350 — they might not even be qualifying for that property tax credit,” Wiltse said. “There’s no doubt that individuals in the cities, as well as the cities themselves, would significantly benefit under this program.”
Beyond the tax plan, the Democratic gubernatorial candidates criticized Rell for other proposals she made and some she did not make. DeStefano called Rell’s proposal to revamp the state’s economic development agencies “a day late and a dollar short,” while Malloy attacked the governor for not addressing health care in her speech. Malloy has proposed providing universal health care for all Connecticut children based on the “Every Child Matters” program he founded in Stamford.
But Wiltse said Malloy misunderstood the intent of Rell’s proposal. The governor’s speech, which lasted just 29 minutes Wednesday, was not intended to serve as an exhaustive overview of all her proposals, he said.
“There are obviously many, many issues that are in the governor’s budget proposal that she doesn’t specifically speak about in the interest of time,” Wiltse said.
Among Rell’s proposals, Wiltse said, is increased assistance for dental insurance. He also said that Rell is a strong supporter of maintaining the state’s existing subsidized health care system, which he called one of the most generous in the country. State Rep. Alfred Adinolfi, a Republican from Hamden and ranking member of the committee on aging, has also said that Rell has shown concern for the cost of health care and has been responsive to proposals for improving coverage for Connecticut citizens.
Rell will meet Tuesday with urban mayors from around the state, including DeStefano and Malloy, to discuss the issue of rising urban violence.