A question I always ask myself on pending legislation is: “What problem does this solve?” The answer should be concise, clear and offer a viable solution. To me, our biggest responsibility as lawmakers is finding pragmatic solutions to current issues.
With that in mind, two key proposals are getting a good deal of attention these days: 1) state control – by virtue of legislative action — of local zoning and 2) a new state-wide property tax. Both of these proposals are purported to address urban poverty, though it’s unclear how these proposals will do that.
First, the statewide new property tax proposal would establish a one mill statewide tax on all commercial and residential real property. The first $300,000 of assessed value would be exempted from the tax. The nickname of “Mansion tax” is a misnomer as the vast majority of properties in southwestern Connecticut are over $300,000 and are not mansions. The revenue would be redistributed largely to the urban districts.
Implementing another progressive tax will only speed the departure of people and businesses from the state. According to the IRS, Connecticut had a net income loss of more than $12 billion between 2012 and 2018 due to outmigration. In addition to the loss of tax revenue, we lose the philanthropic contributions, as well. Another tax is not a solution that will fix our/Connecticut’s fiscal situation. We have multiple opportunities as suggested by the Fiscal Stability & Economic Growth Report to find efficiencies in state agencies rather than burdening the hard working people of our state with yet another tax. Sending people out of the state will not solve the problem of urban poverty.
Another proposal gaining steam is state control of local zoning. This would be accomplished by legislative action that would mandate new protocols to local zoning regulations. Some of these proposals include the right to build multi-family units anywhere within a half mile of a train / transit station, reduced parking requirements for developments and municipal housing authorities would be able to develop housing an additional 15 miles radius outside their current towns of jurisdiction. As proposed, none of these would need to go through local Planning and Zoning Commissions. The goal of this from Hartford bureaucrats is to encourage development of more affordable housing in “high opportunity zones.”
A more practical alternative to create more affordable housing in towns is by allowing accessory dwelling units (sometimes known as “granny” apartments) in certain zones; changing affordable housing thresholds based on specific income levels of municipalities — one size does not fit all and 10% is not a magic number. Facilitating owner-occupied housing supported by a mortgage assistance program for people who are employed — a system of starter homes helping working people to the middle class creates opportunities.
It’s worth noting that both of these highly controversial proposals are sponsored by urban Democrats who have controlled Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport for a combined 148 years since 1953. These are the very areas that are still rife with problems and need structural and comprehensive attention. The near total dysfunction in the urban districts has been under their watch and yet they seem intent on basically giving up on these areas instead of offering reasonable solutions grounded in reality.
The left wing of the Democratic party is pushing this progressive platform of centralized social planning by Hartford bureaucrats and ivory tower academics. Providing state government all out power to decide what is best for our communities is not the best solution to solving our state’s problems and is the wrong path as it would further push our state into further financial instability.
Please let me know your thoughts on these issues. Also, please consider giving written feedback and testimony on these and any of the related proposals. I’ll be following up this column with alternative solutions to the critical need of addressing urban poverty.
As elected representatives, it is our job to listen to you. Always…for the people and by the people. You may sign up for my emails and get in touch with me at email@example.com and 860.240.8700.
State Rep. Terrie Wood represents the 141st district in Norwalk and Darien.