Bob Stefanowski pledges to remove hundreds of ‘nuisance taxes’
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski took aim Tuesday at the smaller taxes and fees Connecticut collects, promising a bigger-picture approach to tax relief will come from his gubernatorial campaign after Labor Day.
If elected, Stefanowski said, he will engage in civil disobedience on his first day in office by ceasing the collection of taxes he deems to be nuisances, until the next legislature can enact a statute repealing them permanently.
“Now I know everybody’s gonna jump up and down, you can’t do that, OK,” Stefanowski said during a mid-morning press conference on the Capitol’s front lawn. “I’m going to tell [the tax commissioner] to do it.”
Citing a recent analysis by The Yankee Institute, a conservative policy group based in Hartford, Stefanowski said the state imposes roughly 200 taxes and fees that collectively generate less than one-quarter of 1% of state government’s total revenue, about $50 million.
Connecticut needs to regulate businesses, but does it need the $36,607 it generates annually from a $190 license fee imposed on interior designers?, Stefanowski asked. How about $14,600 that comes from licensing hypnotists? Or the $210 in total fees raised by licensing those who escort witnesses into courts?
“And I want to see the person on the other side of the aisle that stands up and says ‘we really need to keep the hypnotist registration,’” Stefanowski said. “Let them do it. Or I want to see the person on the other side of the aisle that’s gonna say, ‘Bob, I’m gonna sue you for not collecting the witness fee.’ Let them have that. I look forward to that day.”
Stefanowski and his running mate, Rep. Laura Devlin, R-Fairfield, continue to challenge Gov. Ned Lamont and his fellow Democrats in the legislature’s majority over the unprecedented surpluses accumulated during the fiscal year that closed June 30 — involving more than $4.5 billion in black ink.
The Lamont administration projects the General Fund will finish $4.3 billion in the black, but final audits won’t be completed until late September. That cushion is equal to one-fifth of the entire fund.
The state budget’s Special Transportation Fund closed with a $213 million surplus.
And none of that includes the more than $3 billion the state holds in its long-term budget reserve, commonly known as the rainy day fund.
“You look at a small business that’s come into Connecticut. Look at a small LLC. They’re bringing jobs to Connecticut. Why should we charge them for bringing jobs?” Stefanowski said. “Why should we be nickel and diming people for … 1% of the surplus that we have right now?”
Stefanowski accused Lamont of playing Santa Claus while Connecticut households grapple with high inflation and steep gasoline prices.
“He overtaxes his people by $5 billion,” Stefanowski said, referring to last fiscal year’s budget surpluses. “That’s the amount of money sitting up here that he doesn’t need. And then he selectively hands it back to the people that he wants to, and he looks like a hero.”
The $660 million tax relief plan the governor approved this year is one of the largest in state history. But more than half of the relief is one-time in nature. And state financial aid programs designed to help front-line workers who faced COVID-19 exposure have struggled, either due to a complicated application process or a lack of funding.
Democrats “instead opted for just gimmicks and one time payments, that they’re barely even making,” Devlin said. “What we could have provided and what we are still advocating for, is real, sustainable relief for the people of Connecticut.”
Democrats counter Stefanowski and Devlin are distorting reality.
The bulk the $4.3 billion General Fund surplus, about $4.1 billion, is being used to whittle down $40 billion in pension debt Connecticut amassed between 1939 and 2010. That deposit, coupled with supplemental payments made in 2020 and 2021, will reduce required pension contributions in future years by roughly $400 million, the Lamont administration says. That’s a huge annual savings that then can be used to support other programs or expand tax relief.
“Today Bob Stefanowski launched the latest attempt to reset his flailing campaign with a message that shows he still doesn’t have a legitimate policy proposal,” said Lamont campaign spokeswoman Onotse Omoyeni. “Stefanowski’s antics — summoning cameras to propose $50 million in savings after his running mate voted against $650 million in tax cuts for working people — prove he’s not serious about leading the state.”
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, who was dispatched by Democrats to give a quick rebuttal to the GOP’s statements, cast the plan as small-ball, and a search for a message after shaking up his campaign staff.
“He needed a reset, and he didn’t get one today,” Bronin said. “Instead, what he proposed was nickels and dimes, you know, a tax cut that amounts to 1/13 of the tax cut that the governor just enacted.”
Bronin acknowledged that there was no public policy reason not to review taxes that might not be worth collecting.
“So sure, it’s worth looking at these 200 things and taking a look at him,” Bronin said. “But the bigger point is the most important point, which is that the Republican candidate for governor has not found a message yet. He’s not provided any reason why the residents of Connecticut should want to change right now.”