For Connecticut retirees, the 8.7 percent cost-of-living adjustment they will see in their 2023 Social Security checks could be a blessing or a curse – depending on whether they’re pushed off the cliff.
The boost in payments will be welcomed by individuals whose adjusted gross income is no more than $75,000 and for couples whose AGI is no more than $100,000. But the additional money will come as a slap in the face for retirees who will find themselves exceeding those income levels, if only by a single dollar.
That’s because Gov. Ned Lamont and state lawmakers have exempted pension and annuity income from the state income tax for retirees whose AGI falls below the above-stated thresholds. However, retirees whose AGI exceeds those limits – or cliffs — will still have to pay the 6.99 percent income tax on the entirety of their pensions, 401(k)s and IRAs.
It’s no wonder that Connecticut’s seniors continue to flee the state in large numbers or that Kiplinger, a publisher of business and financial data, still refers to the Nutmeg State as “a tax nightmare for many retirees.”
Moderate-income seniors didn’t benefit from any of the $600 million in tax cuts enacted last year. And in a further poke in the eye, Lamont’s proposed tax cuts this year are rumored to apply to joint filers whose income is less than $150,000 (or perhaps $200,000 due to the skyrocketing budget surplus). In other words, many of the folks who were left out in the cold last year are going to be frozen out again.
Despite the state’s exploding surplus (projected to be an historic $3.1 billion this fiscal year), moderate-income Baby Boomers, who, it could be argued, acted responsibly by saving for their retirement, continue to be bludgeoned by state taxes. Their only realistic exit strategy is to move to tax havens such as Florida, which doesn’t levy a tax on any retirement income.
But if high humidity and alligators aren’t to their liking, seniors can establish residency in any of the 39 states that don’t tax Social Security; the 14 states that don’t tax pensions; the 12 states that don’t tax 401(k)s and IRAs; or the 10 states that – like Florida – don’t tax any retirement income.
Apparently, relocation has caught on big time. Last year, Connecticut’s population rose less than 0.1 percent, compared to the national average of .38 percent. Florida experienced the largest population growth at 1.9 percent. The slow- or no-growth trend in Connecticut is not expected to reverse itself any time soon, according to a joint report by the Urban Institute and Fairfield County’s Center for Housing Opportunity, which stated the obvious: “More people [are] migrating out of the state than into it.”
State Sen. Cathy Osten, the Sprague Democrat who co-chairs the legislature’s Appropriations Committee, has said her goal is to exempt all retirement income from taxation, a move that would cost the state a comparatively paltry $200 million a year. But at a minimum, she says, the state should phase in the pension and annuity exemption, which would alleviate some of the pain of falling off the cliff.
Some might argue that a couple whose AGI exceeds $100,000 is doing just fine, thank you, and don’t need a tax break. But Connecticut is a very high-cost state and retirees get clobbered by the sales tax, exorbitant energy bills, onerous property taxes, the second-highest-in-the-nation electric bills and on and on.
Make no mistake, the aging population is getting hammered, particularly seniors who are 72 and older and who are required to annually withdraw what’s known as a Required Minimum Distribution from certain types of retirement accounts. Even if they don’t need the money, the mandated withdrawals push their income levels to ever-higher heights, meaning they must pay ever-higher amounts of the state income tax. Factor in the 8.7 percent Social Security increase…and pow!
Meanwhile, the governor, who hails from Greenwich, has gone to great lengths to protect the ultra-wealthy from paying their fair share of taxes. As a result of his tax policies, the folks at the lower and higher ends of the income spectrum have been spared but the folks in the middle just keep getting squeezed.
Give seniors a break, governor. Falling off the cliff hurts. If tax cuts aren’t forthcoming this session, the high humidity and alligators be damned. Florida beckons.
Michele Jacklin lives in Glastonbury.