In the coming weeks, our state’s elected leaders – from governor to senators and representatives – must face the voters and win their support in the November elections. There are many important issues confronting our state, including negative economic growth, huge debt in our state employees’ and teachers’ pension funds, aging infrastructure, high taxes at both state and local levels, and diminishing state financial support of our towns.
However, it is becoming increasingly evident that to make Connecticut’s recovery a reality, we also need to keep our seniors from moving away.
Seniors are a critical element of our state and towns’ finances. They pay state income taxes and local property taxes while incurring very little cost to our communities. Why? Town budget costs are generally over 50 percent devoted to education expenses and seniors seldom have children in the school systems. Financially, seniors generate revenue for our towns.
Over the last two years there has been hard-won progress on getting the legislature to pass budget changes that support our seniors: namely, significantly raising the level of income eligibility for fully exempting seniors from paying state income tax on Social Security income; and introducing a new, phased-in exemption from state tax of pension and annuity income for seniors whose income is below $75,000 (single) or $100,000 (joint).
In addition, high-income taxpayers had been driven away to other states through fear of the future impact of Connecticut’s high estate and gift taxes on their assets. Our legislature finally agreed to phase in higher exemption levels starting last year, leading to parity with the Federal level of over $11 million per person by 2020.
Lastly, only recently, our legislature was persuaded to maintain funding, through 2019, of the Medicare Savings Program. This program provides financial support to limited-income seniors for some of their Medicare expenses.
These programs could be in jeopardy with the new legislature in the months ahead. We need to ask our candidates: “Do you intend to support our seniors and keep, or even enhance, these programs?”
Gordon Mackenzie is Director of Fairfield Senior Advocates.