Letter: Three bills impacting Ridgefield pass finance committee
To the Editor:
Last week, the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee — which I sit on — approved three bill proposals that Ridgefield residents need to be aware of because of the long-term implications they would have on Connecticut’s future.
The first piece of legislation explores ways to implement electronic tolling on our highways and represents what I think is a misguided approach to restoring our economy. All proposals related to tolls assume that Connecticut’s budget deficits exist because of a “lack of revenue” — a phrase that translates to “Connecticut residents are not taxed enough.”
I voted against all proposals involving tolls, and not least because they violate a core principle of mine, which is that I believe the legislature is out of line to ask for even one more dollar from Connecticut residents until we evaluate why we spend the most money on roads in the nation per mile, while studies find our roads in among the worst condition of all 50 states.
Further, the math for how tolls would solve our deficit does not add up without a truly unprecedented number of collection points. Take Massachusetts, a state nearly double the population of Connecticut, which collected $340 million in toll revenue from 19 toll sites in 2017. The toll proposals we are considering here project revenue of $700 to $800 million. To accomplish that, Connecticut would need as many as 84 toll gantries — more than any state in the nation! I have seen proposals that would establish 12 gantries on I-84 between Danbury and Hartford.
We can avert the need for tolls by prioritizing our transportation projects and not raiding the transportation fund to prop up the General Fund.
A more encouraging development was the committee passing legislation I submitted to establish a tax credit for employers that provide family and medical leave benefits. The premise of the bill is to motivate businesses to ensure their employees have access to critical benefits without burdening them with a one-size-fits-all government mandate. Since Connecticut continues to rank at or near the bottom of national lists for starting and growing a business, we require a creative solution for protecting employees. It is imperative that we shed this anti-business reputation and incentive businesses with carrots so that they can contribute to a growing economy.
Finally, many Ridgefielders have expressed their concerns about the elimination of State and Local Tax (SALT) exemptions. The new federal tax reform law enacted by Congress caps SALT deductions at $10,000. Given the already immense tax burden on families in our part of Connecticut, I made it a priority to alleviate the effects of this. The third proposal approved by the committee is one I co-sponsored, which essentially permits taxpayers to reclassify their property tax payments as charitable donations. This would allow municipalities like Ridgefield to set up charitable organizations so taxpayers can continue to write off the full amount of their local property taxes.
During this uncertain period for Connecticut, my top priorities remain protecting taxpayers from lawmakers who want to put them on the hook for bailing out the state, building an environment where businesses can grow and thrive, and maintaining core government services.
Turning Connecticut around will take more than just these three bills. Restoring our economy will require a pro-growth brand of thinking that has been rejected in Hartford for the past seven years. That’s why I have committed to oppose the backwards-looking tolls bill and support bills that help businesses and taxpayers.
State Rep. John Frey represents the 111th Assembly District in Ridgefield. He is ranking member of the General Assembly’s Transportation Bonding Subcommittee.