Rep. Anne Hughes, D-Easton, co-chairwoman of the House Democratic Progressive Caucus

More than half of House of Representatives’ Democratic majority sent Gov. Ned Lamont a clear message Thursday: they want a tax hike on the rich in the next state budget.

The 56 representatives who signed a letter to the governor could push the budget debate into gridlock as the 2019 session nears its June 5 adjournment.

“Our state relies heavily on regressive sales and property taxes while employing a moderately progressive income tax,” wrote 56 House Democrats and seven Democratic senators. 

Maribel La Luz, the governor’s spokeswoman, said Lamont is committed to closing the multi-billion dollar budget deficit he inherited while minimizing tax burdens on all households.

“The governor doesn’t want to raise the income tax on anyone within any income bracket and has repeated this over and over,” she said.”

Connecticut taxes income at a variety of rates ranging from 3 to 6.9 percent until an individual earns more than $500,000 and a couple tops $1 million. For those at the top of the scale, all income is taxed at 6.99 percent.

Because of the rate system coupled with credits and exemptions, most households earning less than $40,000 — if they include children — have little to no tax liability.

But while Connecticut’s income tax generally is recognized as progressive when it comes to poor working families, critics say the rate on wealthy taxpayers is not far above those on many middle-income households.

And given that the state also relies heavily on property taxes to fund municipal government, studies have shown the poor and middle class households pay a greater share of their earnings to cover their combined state-local tax bill than wealthy taxpayers do.

“This structure soaks the middle class, taking over 12 percent of their income in state and local taxes,” the letter states.

Sources say the Lamont administration, which has been in closed-door negotiations with Democratic legislative leaders on the next state budget, consistently has rejected a plan to tax the rich offered by one legislative panel.

The Finance Revenue and Bonding Committee recommended adding a 2-percentage-point surcharge onto the top income tax rate — but only on capital gains earnings.

This would raise a projected $262 million per year.

A caucus of progressive House Democrats teamed with labor and religious groups last week to offer three revenue proposals at their “Fair & Just Budget Rally.”

Rep. Josh Elliott, D-Hamden Sam Gurwitt / New Haven Independent

Besides the capital gains surcharge, they also suggested raising the top marginal rate on all earnings above $500,000. A third option involved a one-mill, statewide property tax on houses valued at more than $1 million, the so-called “mansion tax.”

Rep. Anne Hughes, D-Easton, co-chairwoman of the progressive caucus, insisted the letter she co-signed is not an attack on Connecticut’s wealthy, but rather an acknowledgement that too many households are falling behind in this state.

“The cost of a well-functioning, equitable society is higher here,” she said. 

Though the letter invites Lamont to embrace a capital gains surcharge, Rep. Josh Elliott, D-Hamden, who also serves on the progressive caucus and signed the letter, said leaders should not to underestimate the resolve of lawmakers who want a more progressive tax system.

“If the capital gains tax is not in that final package, then all we are doing is taxing the middle class to death in this state,” he said, adding that no one wants a repeat of the 2017 budget debate. 

That exercise stretched on for 10 months and Elliott noted that many tentative budget concepts never passed muster with rank-and-file lawmakers. “We basically had to come back and start over again and again,” he said.

There are 91 Democrats and 60 Republicans in the House, and GOP lawmakers all are expected to oppose the budget because it almost certainly will contain tax increases of some kind.

That means — if all representatives vote — it would take 76 Democratic votes to pass a budget in the House. Seven of the 22 Democrats in the Senate also signed the letter.

Lamont also has said  that taxing investment earnings of the rich would drive the wealthy from Connecticut and weaken its economy.

Gov. Ned Lamont. Frankie Graziano / Connecticut Public Radio

The governor has said all along since his budget address that he’s open to any idea as long as the numbers add up, there’s no borrowing from the future and he remains consistent in his opposition to increasing the capital gains rate on Connecticut’s residents,” La Luz added. “In order to create a more economically competitive and pro-growth environment, we need to consider that we are competing with every state around us. We need a tax policy that does not encourage further out-migration, limits our ability to expand economic opportunity into the next decade and generation, and does not increase our reliance on volatile revenue sources.”

The Democratic governor campaigned on a pledge not to raise income tax rates. He avoided that option in February when he proposed his budget, even though state finances were projected to run about $3.7 billion in deficit — unless adjusted — over the next two fiscal years combined.

Some legislators balked at the governor’s revenue package, saying it was too regressive. Hundreds of millions of dollars would be raised by canceling dozens of sales tax exemptions. A new tax would be imposed on sugary beverages and municipalities would be forced to contribute to the teachers’ pension fund.

House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said the letter simply is part of the legislative process.

“I think it’s what we do in this place,” he said. “We communicate our feelings.”

Ritter added he’s confident House Democrats will weigh all aspects of any tentative budget deal presented by leaders, and not just the presence or absence of one specific tax proposal. “Our caucus will review the entirety of the budget and make their vote based on the totality of the package,” he said.

The legislators endorsing an increase is taxes on the state\’s most wealthy.
The legislators endorsing an increase is taxes on the state\’s most wealthy.

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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  1. Every single name on that list needs to take mandatory economics 101 classes. Progressive policies have failed our state and buried us in debt and contracts we could never afford. Other states are laughing at our stupidity – in essence they are laughing at the people on this list – who still fail to understand the principles of a modern economy. The illusion of their power ends at our borders.

  2. All of CT’s problems can be “solved” by taxing the rich to shore up the poor. But that assumes CT’s rich – mostly Gold Coast residents dependent on NYCity – won’t move out of State. A recent Bloomberg study showed that’s exactly what’s happening. CT leads the nation in exodus of wealthy residents. They’re headed to Florida where’s there’s no income tax. Imagine that.
    Zillow shows 4,000 Gold Coast homes for sale. So lets keep taxing the rich. Gold Coast residents aren’t part of CT anyway. They happen to just live near the NY border.

    BTW has anyone notice that the CT’s high taxes haven’t much helped residents of our major depressed cities. They’re mostly less populated than after the War. So we have a “poverty exodus” as well. Without good available jobs they’re leaving for much better opportunities outside CT with its decade long stagnant economy.

    CT’s fundamental problem isn’t punishing taxes. That’s easy to adjust. It’s lack of good well paying jobs in modern hi-tech computer industries in modern cities. And that’s not readily solvable in just a few years.

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