Candidates for state office discussed a range of pressing issues facing the city of Hartford this past Monday at a forum held at the Hartford Public Library. Some of the candidates were long-time veterans of political campaigning and public policy, while others were running for the first time. Generally, the issues remained consistent; however, more than once, the conversation turned to the topic of Connecticut’s tax structure and its disparate effect on cities like Hartford.
The forum, moderated by the Hartford Courant’s Tom Condon, highlighted that Hartford is over-reliant on property tax for revenue. Several factors play into this. As the Capitol city, Hartford has several public buildings that are exempt from paying the tax. As a result, the burden falls on businesses and homeowners. Furthermore, as an urban area, the city must provide for more publically funded services for residents on a greater scale than its non-metropolitan counterparts.
Every candidate present agreed that over-dependence on property tax amplified several of the city’s struggles, such as financing education, closing the achievement gap, and improving the climate of the city in terms of attracting businesses and jobs. While there was consensus that property taxes are an underlying structural problem, each candidate had a somewhat different solution.
Kenneth Lerman (R) from District 1 claimed that the entire tax structure of the state needed to be revisited, but agreed that the tax is regressive and has a negative impact on homeowners and businesses in the state. His opponent, incumbent Matt Ritter (D), conceded that the tax is the most regressive in the state. He hopes that Connecticut will echo the state of Colorado’s approach by declaring the tax unconstitutional in the judicial branch and instigate reform.
Rico Dence (R), first-time runner from the 4th District, stated that while high property taxes are a problem, the solution is to simply increase residency in the city. His premise is that high residency will increase the tax base, and for that reason supports bringing a four-year university similar to Yale or Wesleyan into the downtown arena. He failed to discuss how his plan would offset a rise in costs to the city for increased services, such as police patrolling.
Brandon McGee (D) from District 5, promised to sit down with business owners in the city and hear from them about the types of policies needed to make Hartford a better environment for businesses. His opponent, Paul Panos (R), believes the problem is solved by simple economics. He would vote to reduce the minimum wage and collective bargaining rights as he claimed they are the real barriers to employment. Panos failed to address the fact that a minimum wage earner in the city currently has to work over 100 hours a week in order to afford rent and utilities for a two bedroom apartment.
The forum also highlighted education reform, the I-84 viaduct, and more discussion around unemployment. When attendees were invited to question the candidates on other topics, the MDC Clean Water Project came up on several occasions, but no one present could cite accurate data around the number of jobs its creating for Hartford residents. Concerned citizens were encouraged to attend one of the several informational meetings held by MDC. More information on MDC’s public outreach initiative can be found here: http://thecleanwaterproject.com/events.
If you were unable to attend the Candidate’s Forum, the event was recorded and can be viewed on Hartford Public Access Television at 11:00 AM on October 24 and October 31.