Saturday, February 22, 2014

Toni Harp And The Dannel Malloy School Of Governing

More than four months ago, Toni Harp -- whose husband, now deceased, was the biggest tax scofflaw in New Haven – was elected mayor. Governor Dannel Malloy, author of the largest tax increase in Connecticut’s history, was present at her elbow encouraging a friendly crowd of union supporters to work hard for Mrs. Harp’s election.

He was accosted by a woman, apparently a New Haven taxpayer, who demanded to know why the governor was throwing his support to the wife of the city’s most irresponsible taxpayer. The woman, a mere fly speck, was hastily brushed off. Other notables in the Democratic Party, including the state’s two Democratic U.S. Senators, Dick Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, dutifully made appearances in New Haven to support the wife of the city’s biggest tax scofflaw.

Mrs. Harp explained, both during her campaign and after her election, that a Berlin Wall had been erected between herself and her husband in the matter of tax payments. Neither the husband nor his wife had been a responsible tax payer, the husband because he didn’t pay the taxes he owed, and the wife because she did not know her husband didn’t pay his taxes, even though Mrs. Harp had been a State Senator for 20 years, serving for five terms as the leader of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee. As Alderwoman for the Second Ward in New Haven, Mrs. Harp has for five years served as Chairwoman of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee. In both positions, Mrs. Harp would have acquired more than a nodding acquaintance with tax receipts and computations.

New Haven being a one party town, Mrs. Harp was easily elected mayor. Following the election, her husband’s name disappeared from the tax scofflaw list. No one knows exactly why. Had the Harp tax debt been paid? Certainly that was one possibility. Reporters were unable to confirm a tax payment. Had the debt been forgiven?  Occasionally the state will write off uncollectable debts. No answer was forthcoming from the deceased Mr. Harp, his son – who had inherited the assets and debts of the Harp family – Mayor Harp, Governor Malloy or Senators Blumenthal and Murphy.

As is the case with other large cities in Connecticut, New Haven finds itself under a damoclean sword of debt. Bridgeport, according to a recent report, now has the distinction of being the highest taxed city in the nation. Most large debt infested cities in Connecticut have been run from time immemorial by Democrats, and it is not too far a stretch to say that these cities are mired in Democratic debt.

There are two ways of confronting debt: You may pay off your debt through your assets or you may ignore the debt, as did Mr. Harp and his inattentive wife. But ignorance is not bliss; eventually the tax man will be knocking at your door.

Mayors of large cities, however, cannot afford such reckless indifference; when debt looms, they must either cut spending, if they are conservative in their habits, or increase revenue to pay the debt, if they are progressive in their orientation.

Mrs. Harp – no Tea Party Patriot she – is a progressive. And so, when she was asked at a media availability recently whether she might resort to selling tax liens to discharge part of “cash strapped” New Haven’s debt, Mrs. Harp strongly hinted that she would rather raise taxes: “Before selling tax liens, I would look at raising taxes,” she said. “I know that is something people don’t want to do. I don’t want to do it.”

Mrs. Harp pointed out that selling tax liens would be problematic and perhaps even pointless because, according to a New Haven Independent report, “The city’s tax collection rate for the fiscal year ending July 1, 2012 was 97.84, according to the city. So there’s a lot less money for a private company, even the most aggressive, to make off of New Haven tax debt than there was two decades ago.

“’It really is not something I would consider,’ Harp finally said in reference to the lien recommendation.”

There is no indication in the news account whether reporters present had asked the mayor if the Harp debt was among the tax collections she cited, nor is there any indication that the new mayor’s contemplated tax increase will be “fair shared” by equal reductions in spending.

A graduate of the Dannel P. Malloy School of governing, Mrs. Harp answered the obvious question – Will she in her March 1st budget increase taxes to discharge New Haven’s prospective debt and pay for her ambitious contemplated reforms? – by putting off the answer to another day: “I’m not going to say now. But you might be hearing soon.”

Mrs. Harp hastened to point out that mill rates are higher in comparable cities. Those cities, evidently, are paying their “fair share” in taxes.

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