Ken Dixon: Budget ‘punishes the poor for being poor’
It’s not very often that the starboard and port sides of the good ship General Assembly have anything —let alone something — in common.
But this historic budget mess has brought together the liberals and conservatives in new ways, after Republican and Democratic leaders holed up for three weeks in what Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, aptly described as a windowless room in the Capitol. Instead of political guerrillas and snipers, they went line by line through a thousand pages of numbers and set the course for the next generation of legislative leadership.
So there was Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, an urban progressive voting against the $41.2-billion state budget, along with an ultra-con, Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden, in the predawn hours of Thursday. Eleven hours later, Rep. Josh Elliott, a fire-breathing Hamden liberal, if one exists these days, was voting with the right wing of the House Republicans.
When it came down to it, their votes were symbolic. The important thing is that the 33-3 vote in the Senate and the 126-23 vote in the House on Thursday shows Gov. Dan Malloy that if he wants to veto this for a few reasons he is mulling (the transfer, call it theft, of $175 million in utility ratepayer money from green energy programs to the General Fund; a potential $300-million ratepayer giveaway to the Millstone nuke plant; a possible miscalculation of town aid; a possible drafting mistake in language on the hospital tax), he’ll court a sure-fire veto override after a debate in which he’ll be the public target of lawmaker criticism.
Leaders have been using the “bipartisan budget” as a deflection from criticism for the $3.5-billion deficit that they tried to balance in a budget that will kick lower-income people off temporary family support; cut the Earned Income Tax Credit; end the $200 property-tax credit for most homeowners.
Winfield, a member of the General Assembly since 2009, punctured that argument. “I think bipartisanship is great, sometimes,” Winfield said during the late-night/early morning Senate debate. “I think partisanship is great sometimes. I think it depends on what we’re talking about. There are things in this budget that I don’t like. There are things in this budget that I think that we should not do. Bipartisanship can sometimes have us do things that are not the way to operate.”
Elliott, only in his first term, is a millennial and a lawyer. He has advocated for the Dreamers, the kids born in other countries and are here without legal permission. He’s for recreational marijuana, which could bring in tens of millions in new revenue. He manages a natural food store in Hamden and co-owns another in Shelton.
He also is in favor of higher taxes for those who rake in the largest incomes in the state. He popped some of the “no new tax balloons” that have scared away Democratic leadership from raising the income tax heading into an election year, after several election cycles of deteriorating Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.
“For earners who make $75,000 or less, they are paying at minimum 14 percent of their income to state and local taxes, and for those earners who make $165,000 or more, they pay no more than 8 percent,” said Elliott, who is vice chairman of the Legislature’s tax-writing Finance Committee. “A lot of talk has been bandied about in terms of the people who are leaving the state. If you look over the past six years, at the tax filers of Connecticut, what you’ll see is the diminution of filers who make $50,000 or less and you’ll see accrual of earners who make $100,000 or more. But the narrative we all have in our collective minds is that the wealthy are leaving our state because it is simply too expensive due to the tax burden of living here. So any time there’s a person who is wealthy who leaves the state, we all point to that person and say: ‘Look, see, this is the problem with Connecticut.’ Then we ignore the facts that we are the wealthiest state, per capita in the U.S. We ignore the facts that over the last 10 years, through two tax increases, we’ve gone from fourth-most to second-most and now we’re tied for first in terms of millionaires per capita.”
During that period, the top income tax bracket went from 6.5 percent, to 6.7 percent, then 6.99 percent. “You can see that right now, we are arguing over literally point-2, point-3 percent on what our wealthy can pay into the system?” he asked. “I think this is a budget that ultimately asks of everybody but those who can afford it most. It punishes the poor for being poor. It punishes the middle class for living in a society that does not protect them, and it rewards those who already have it made by either growing up white, growing up rich, or growing up in a state that protects only those in the top quintile, or in some cases the top one-percent of income earners.”
Ken Dixon can be reached in the Capitol at 860-549-4670 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. See twitter.com/KenDixonCT. His Facebook address is kendixonct.hearst.