Perez, DeStefano Say Property Tax Limit Would Hurt Their Cities
April 3, 2007
By DANIEL E. GOREN, Courant Staff Writer
The mayors of two of Connecticut's largest cities - Hartford's Eddie A. Perez and New Haven's John DeStefano - on Monday attacked Gov. M. Jodi Rell's proposed cap on local property taxes, saying it threatens the financial stability of their cities.
"The governor's proposal is fiscally irresponsible and would prevent communities such as Hartford from raising revenues necessary to maintain sound financial footing," Perez said in a prepared statement handed out at a press conference with the legislature's Democratic leadership.
DeStefano said the governor's proposal would devastate New Haven's ability to raise revenue.
In a move that took many by surprise, Rell proposed last week that local property tax increases be capped at 3 percent annually - except in extraordinary circumstances. The governor proposed the tax cap to go hand-in-glove with her earlier proposal to boost state aid to local school districts.
Saying that property taxes had increased on average 6 percent annually over the past five years, Rell contended her proposal would ensure property tax relief by pouring unprecedented amounts of state money into all 169 cities and towns.
But with no assurance that municipalities would get enough state funding each year, critics of the plan said the cap could trigger fiscal mayhem for municipalities, commandeering local control over spending and potentially threatening core services, such as schools, fire and police protection.
DeStefano said New Haven would get slammed.
"With nearly half of our grand list tax-exempt, New Haven will have virtually no ability to raise revenue, devastating our ability to provide education and public safety services," he said. "Families and children will be gravely harmed."
Perez said Rell's interest in property tax relief is "a good sign" but called her specific plan "a political gimmick that will harm every community in the state.
"The governor should sit down with legislative leaders if she truly wants property tax reform and work for a genuine solution," he said.
Democratic leaders in the General Assembly quickly criticized Rell's plan after she released it last week. They continued to deride it Monday.
State Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr. and Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney stood with Perez and DeStefano at Monday's news conference.
Williams said Rell's plan could close fire stations and threaten other essential services. Looney said it "could wreak havoc" and "result in disastrous cuts."
Rell fired back Monday, saying Democratic leaders always have "an excuse not to take action." She accused them of being more interested in slinging charged accusations than seeking to solve problems. In the end, she said, Connecticut taxpayers literally pay the price of the Democrats' inaction.
"The taxpayers of Connecticut have really had it, and so have I," Rell said. "I have to say to my friends on the other side of the aisle, stop the posturing. No more excuses or delays. It is time to get it done. Now I'm inviting the Democrats to come to that same table and help me in achieving real property tax relief for our citizens."
Williams said Monday he and other Democrats want to solve Connecticut's property tax woes but not in a way that is "doomed to failure over time."
"Certainly we are interested in finding ways to control people's property taxes, but not with a one-size-fits-all plan," he said.
Rell's plan would first impact city and town budgets starting July 1, 2008, officials said. The proposal allows municipalities four ways to override the cap, allowing them to exceed that limit:
Two-thirds of a city or town council approve a referendum, then a simple majority of voters approve a larger increase.
For emergencies such as hurricanes, massive fires or other catastrophes.
For huge expenses, such as a new sewer plant.
A municipality's grand list grows by more than 1.5 percent.
Connecticut ranks behind only New Jersey for the highest property taxes per capita in the country, and those taxes are 85 percent above the U.S. average, officials said.
Staff Writer Christopher Keating contributed to this report.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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