Gov.-elect Dan Malloy tapped West Hartford Democrat Kevin B. Sullivan, a former longtime state Senate leader and lieutenant governor, to lead the state’s tax agency.
Sullivan, 61, will assume control of the Department of Revenue Services as the new Malloy administration prepares to address what effectively amounts to the largest budget shortfall in state history–a gap Malloy concedes cannot be closed without tax hikes.
“I’ve known Kevin for years and while he’s no longer a public official, that’s never stopped his commitment to public service,” Malloy said. “As commissioner, Kevin will draw upon his experiences and relationships born out of his time in the legislature to help Connecticut find new and innovative ways in which to collect the money it is due.”
The department oversees collection of nearly $13 billion in tax revenues from the General and Transportation funds and processes nearly $1 billion in refunds.
With an annual budget of $66.9 million and a staff about 730 employees, the department also includes Division of Special Revenue, which oversees Indian gaming and the Connecticut Lottery Corp.
More recently the state’s tax system has come under scrutiny because of the increasing problems that Connecticut–like most states–is facing collecting taxes tied to Internet transactions.
Though state law requires residents to report on their state income tax returns any sales taxes owed from online transactions, legislators and other state officials have long conceded most residents do not abide by this requirement, either through ignorance or indifference.
Estimates for revenue losses tied to this problem have ranged from $10 million to more than $50 million, though nearly all analyses agree that this problem is growing as online shopping increases in popularity.
Malloy said Connecticut can’t afford not to properly enforce all of its existing tax laws, though he declined to discuss any specific proposals to bolster collections.
Malloy must submit a plan in mid-February to close a projected $3.67 billion deficit built into the 2011-12 fiscal year, a gap that is equal to nearly one-fifth of all current state spending.
“We need to collect all of the money that is rightfully owed to the people of Connecticut,” he said, adding that the problem was getting a serious review by his staff. “I think what we’re looking for is a department that is very proactive but also works with people.”
Sullivan quipped that “I do not intend to be the tax man” known only for enforcing tax codes, adding that he also hoped to contribute to be “part of the economic development, job development, jobs creation agenda” of the new Malloy administration.”
Malloy praised Sullivan for bringing a wealth of experience to his administration, and predicted he would call upon the new commissioner to assist with other projects “above and beyond the traditional role of commissioner of revenue services.”
First elected to the state Senate in 1986, Sullivan served for 18 years, including four terms as president pro tem. A former assistant to the state commissioner of education, Sullivan also served as vice president of Trinity College in Hartford during much of his Senate career.
He had to leave his Senate leadership role in July 2004 when then-Gov. John G. Rowland resigned amid an impeachment inquiry.
In accordance with the state Constitution, Rowland’s lieutenant, M. Jodi Rell, became governor, and Sullivan, as president pro tem of the Senate, became her lieutenant. That created an odd dynamic for 18 months as a Republican governor was forced to share an administration with a Democratic lieutenant governor who also was one of the prior administration’s most vocal critics.
When Rell was re-elected for a full term in November 2006, her running mate was Stamford Republican Michael Fedele, while Sullivan became president of The Children’s Museum in West Hartford.
“I’m honored that Governor-elect Malloy believes my skills and experience will be of use to him in his administration,” Sullivan said. “I’m looking forward to stepping back into public service on behalf of the people of the state of Connecticut.”
Sullivan is married to Dr. Carolyn Thornberry, a former West Hartford town councilor who was recently elected that community’s Democratic registrar of voters.