Blue State Blues: Residents Say ‘Enough’ to Tax Burden, Stifling Culture of Connecticut
Michael Stern’s follow-up for PJ Media, September 15:
Having moved from Connecticut to South Carolina, I now buy gas for $1.68.9 per gallon. My costs for insurance, housing, and services are one-half to two-thirds of what they used to be. My tax bills are smaller and my paycheck is bigger. The recycling center is free and it takes everything. Even yoga classes cost less (and the state doesn’t tax them).
But for me, it’s not so much the cost of living that makes my relocation sweet. It is the fact that I have begun to remember what it’s like to be a citizen of the state rather than a subject of the government. In countless ways, I feel free. A lot of it is silly little stuff, like being able to burn brush in the backyard, but there are larger forces, mostly intangible, that constantly remind me how different life is here.
The big-picture dissimilarity is the politicians. Here, the attitude seems to be that public servants are just that -- public servants -- and we, the people, employ them. How different that is from the last decade or more in Connecticut, where so many of our elected officials act like it is their job to decide how people should live their lives, to create regulations ensuring they conform, and to tax them accordingly. “Power tends to corrupt,” Lord Acton famously proclaimed. “And absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Perhaps that is why our leaders have forgotten who’s boss.
On a microcosmic level, my brief encounters with “authorities” here in South Carolina have reinforced my belief that the tone of public life is different. Even at the Department of Motor Vehicles (where the wait was less than 10 minutes), I actually felt that the personnel were there to aid and assist me and to ensure my transition to citizenship was a happy one.
The people who work in the post office smile at customers; police tip their hats to say hello. Maybe it’s all just old-time Southern hospitality, and there’s nothing wrong with that; but I also see the positive attitude as one that thrives in a society where it is not the job of civil servants to rule people, but rather, to help them -- a society where citizens are at liberty to live their lives as they determine, without relentless intimidation by politicians and bureaucrats telling them what they can and cannot do and what they must pay for the privilege of doing it.
Yes, there is a lot I miss about Connecticut -- friends, mostly, but also the beauty of the Litchfield Hills and the grand antiquity of New England in general. I have yet to discover really good ice cream down here, and to be frank, the donuts are awful and hot dogs only fair. However, the barbecue is fantastic and fresh fruits and vegetables are beyond compare, and there is a pizzeria in town whose chef and proprietor grew up in New Haven and who proudly offers a New Haven special on his menu of true-Neapolitan pies. Is it up to the standards of Pepe’s, Sally’s, Modern? No, but enduring A-grade pizza (as opposed to Wooster Street A+), is, for me, a fair trade for living free.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
By Senator Scott Frantz
The Clash may have been on to life here in Connecticut. "Should I Stay or Should I Go" was the title of one of their more successful songs, perhaps because it brought a focus to that most pivotal of life decisions: How does one decide when enough really is ... enough?
Recently, author Michael Stern wrote an op-ed in the Hartford Courant: "I'm Not Leaving Connecticut, It Left Me." Stern suggested that Connecticut has lost its independent character and its edge: his unique, chosen home state had become uniform, lacking drive and the will to be different, and I suppose Stern's words could accurately describe the state we are in, applied both figuratively and literally.
What happened to our drive? Taxes.
During the past six years Connecticut residents have had their income taxes raised significantly twice, on top of large increases in dozens of other taxes and fees. Both raises are characterized as the highest increase in taxes in state history -- and astonishingly, both were made retroactive.
When the state’s first-ever Tax Panel began its work a year ago, State Comptroller Kevin Lembo acknowledged that Connecticut’s annual per-capita state tax burden of $2,500 was “well above” the $1,400 national average -- and was the third-highest in the country.
The cost of living in our beautiful state is expensive. After paying for food, gas, electricity, rent or mortgage, the high property taxes and income taxes are too much, tipping the scales towards "Go." The Atlas Van Lines Migration Patterns study for 2013 suggests that Connecticut is losing residents faster than any other state.
The Indiana-based moving company has reported where customers are moving to since 1993. In 2013, 60 percent of customers who crossed the Connecticut state line were leaving the Nutmeg State, while just 40 percent were relocating here.
The U.S Census Bureau backed up the Atlas Van Lines study, claiming that Connecticut saw 26,000 more people move out than in between July 2013 to July 2014.
Only West Virginia and Illinois lost more population during that period.
The rate of annual loss of residents to other states has been increasing as well. The 26,000 loss in residents from July 2013 to July 2014 was estimated to be a 10,000-person increase from the prior period.
The top places for relocation, as touted by a Hartford Courant story that ran earlier this year, were New York, Massachusetts, Florida, Pennsylvania, and California. Whether the cause was people retiring or young adults trying to make it on their own, Connecticut residents judged those states to be a better place for making a go of their dreams.
How do we reverse the trend?
We need a much friendlier and predictable business environment with a lower tax burden -- and a better attitude in Hartford towards the private sector. That's the productive side of the economy. Given the freedom to spread her wings, Connecticut's private sector is capable of hiring millions and creating even more jobs in the future.
Good governance remains fundamentally simple: serve your residents and your businesses well, and they will not only stay but attract more to come. I've had enough of Connecticut residents needing to say "enough." It would be great to again hear people have reason to say they can’t get enough of Connecticut.