Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Revolution Next Time

In a rational universe Chester’s First Selectman Tom Marsh’s idea might be bruited about in the state legislature; it certainly would not be rejected out of hand.

Mr. Marsh fresh from a recent conversation with Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, wants Connecticut to know that for the past year he has been promoting “a policy that allows towns to keep a portion of the sales and income tax that is generated.”

An earlier idea promoted by several of Connecticut’s mayors, that selected big cities should be permitted to levy sales taxes, is the wrong idea, in Marsh’s view, because it would encourage the flight of capital from city to suburb.

After being told by Williams that there was no magic money tree in the basement of the Capitol building from which dollars could be plucked and given to the towns, Marsh, David facing Goliath, slung his proposal at Williams, writing later in an letter to a newspaper that it was his idea to shift to towns “control of a portion of the tax revenue” from “the inefficient bureaucracy in Hartford and keep it in the hands of local government, where it is most directly accountable to those who pay the tax.”

With ideas like this in the air, can the revolution be far behind?

Marsh is not the first politician to notice that when a dollar is transmitted from, say, Chester to the money eaters in the state legislature in Hartford, something more than a dollar is lost in transit.

Every dollar Williams collects from Chester is a dollar in tax receipts that Marsh cannot collect from citizens who live in Chester. Also, the dollar’s trip from Chester to Hartford is attended with hidden costs that reduce the purchasing power of the dollar. If the dollar is collected by Williams and returned to Chester for educational costs, the purchasing power of the dollar will be reduced by additional bureaucratic costs. There is of course no dollar for dollar return on revenue collected; in the getting and spending lottery, some towns win dollars, while others lose dollars. The state, far less responsible than municipalities, also has a way of reneging on its promised obligations. Much of the loot collected from towns that should have been dedicated to teacher pension funds, to take but one example of many, has been dumped into the general fund, Connecticut’s black hole of spending. Like love, it would appear that dedication lies in the eyes of the beholder.

Here’s the real deal: Money is political power; that is why Williams wants the bulk of it to be collected from Chester and sent to Hartford, where it may be dolled out, at William’s pleasure, to chastened petitioners like Marsh.

When Williams told Marsh there was no magic tree from which William could pluck dollars to fill Marsh’s beggar’s bowl, Marsh introduced Williams to reality.

He knew there was no magic tree, he said.

The source of the funds Williams was able to distribute to Chester in fact originated in Chester. The state is simply the custodian and distributor of the funds. But the state, far removed from the source of those funds, is not as responsible a distributor or collector as the municipalities, which are closer in a republican form of government to the people, who are the real money tree.

So why not allow municipalities to keep more of the money sent to Hartford?

Revolutions are made of questions such as these.

In another corner of the Democrat barracks, in the meantime, the Democrat controlled finance committee was plotting, unbeknown to the sometime fiscal conservative Speaker of the House Jim Amann, to raise taxes. When Amann recovered from his surprise, he “spoke strongly,” as one newspaper put it against “a legislative proposal to charge an extra 6 percent sales tax on delivery charges for packages sent to homes and businesses.”

"From day one, we've said this is not the year to raise taxes," Amann said. "For the most part, this is dead on arrival. It's the last thing we want to do in this environment. This is not the climate for it. It came as a surprise to everyone, including leadership and 98 percent of the people in the building."

If the unshakable William was surprised, he was not dismayed. Said Williams, “I'm not ready to say this is a good idea or a bad idea.”

More taxes, after all, are the next best thing to a money tree in the basement of the Capitol building.
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