State Rep. Steve Stafstrom, whose district was hit hard by the latest tax increase, issued this eblast to constituents asserting there is plenty of blame to go around. The solution, he writes, “In order to improve the pace of Connecticut’s economic growth, it is abundantly clear that we have to fix our cities and this starts with reforming the regressive property tax structure that imposes an undue burden on city residents and stifles job growth and economic development.” From Stafstrom:
As a homeowner, I share the frustration and concern that many of you have expressed with local property taxes following the distribution of 2016 city tax bills. While there is plenty of shared blame for Bridgeport’s current, burdensomely high mil rate, this is not simply a neighborhood or municipal issue–it is a State concern that has been decades in the making.
For far too long, Connecticut has turned a blind eye to its cities, letting them suffocate under the legacy costs they incurred generations ago in order to be the post-war, industrial drivers the State relied upon to build our 20th Century economy. As heavy industrial production declined, Connecticut led the charge to suburban corporate office parks where development was cheap and costs were lower.
Now, in the 21st Century innovative economy, businesses and young professionals are looking to move back to dynamic, livable, walkable cities. Connecticut has been late to recognize this demand and is now disadvantaged by having cities who for far too long have been left to bear their own legacy costs as residents have fled to lower cost municipalities. Certainly, a modicum of poor municipal decision making has compounded the problem for Bridgeport.
But, the fact remains that the current reality of high taxes, underfunded schools and reduced services in our cities has caught up with us, as business and residents look out of State for the dynamic city life they crave. To punctuate this point, a recent report published by the Commission on Economic Competitiveness found that revitalizing our urban cores is one of the keys to our future economic growth as a state. In order to improve the pace of Connecticut’s economic growth, it is abundantly clear that we have to fix our cities and this starts with reforming the regressive property tax structure that imposes an undue burden on city residents and stifles job growth and economic development.
Though we only recently started making progress on fixing a decades old problem, I’m proud of the work the Legislature has done over the past two sessions that has begun to move the State in this direction. For the first time in the State’s history, we have allowed cities a revenue stream other than the property tax by sharing with them a small portion of the sales tax. This has allowed us to cut and cap the car tax and send additional municipal aid of around $7 million per year back to Bridgeport.
We have worked in a bipartisan fashion to save Bridgeport taxpayers $10 million in pension payments over the next two years, and have allowed municipalities a local option to impose an admissions tax at entertainment venues. Our current mil rate would be even higher without this significant State action.
Perhaps most significantly though, we have implemented a spending cap beginning in FY 18 to help force municipalities to live within their means. However, as evidenced by recent municipal budgets, this is just scratching the surface and significant tax relief is still needed for our city residents. To that effect, the State needs to re-double its efforts to partner with Bridgeport and other cities in helping them to thrive as the livable, walkable and sustainable regional job creators and economic drivers we need them to be.
When the 2017 Session of the General Assembly convenes in January we must join with all our municipal colleagues to work together to regionalize services, reduce costs, find alternative revenue steams and address our debt obligations. We owe this to all of our residents and the growth of our cities and State economy depend upon it.
I welcome your suggestions, comments and feedback as we prepare to continue this effort in the January Session.