Boughton pushes for state income tax repeal
Mark Boughton is molding himself as the anti-Lowell P. Weicker Jr.
The longtime Danbury mayor — trying to separate himself from a pack of Republicans with gubernatorial ambitions — wants to abolish the state income tax ushered in by Weicker a quarter-century ago.
Connecticut has a spending problem, not a revenue problem, said Boughton, who blamed the income tax for the exodus of residents and businesses to other states. Since it came onto the books, he said, the state has lost $13.7 billion in net adjusted gross income.
“Obviously, one only has to look at companies like Aetna and GE,” he said. “I recently met with some portfolio managers in lower Fairfield County. Probably 70 to 80 percent of them are leaving.”
The concept quickly drew plaudits and skepticism during a recent rollout by Boughton, who is raising money for a presumptive run for governor in 2018, in what would be his third shot at the state’s top office. The income tax accounts for $9 billion of the $15 billion in annual tax revenue collected by the state.
“I tell Mark Boughton to get with the real world,” Weicker said. “We’re way past the point in this state where that’s in any way conceivable. All that’s going to mean is a huge sales tax, and that will really hurt the lower-income families in our state.”
History of Controversy
Weicker, a former U.S. senator and ex-Greenwich first selectman, said his immediate successor vowed to do the same as Boughton proposes.
“This is what John Rowland said he was going to do,” Weicker said. “I’m sure we’d all like to get rid of it. Just take a look at how much in debt we are with the income tax. You’re obviously going to have to raise corporate taxes, the very thing you’re trying to avoid.”
But Boughton’s stock among conservatives, led by CNBC’s Larry Kudlow, appeared to be on the uptick with his call to repeal the state income tax. The one-time Ronald Reagan budget guru and Redding resident tweeted “Right On!” at Boughton Monday night.
“It’s the right spirit,” Kudlow told Hearst Connecticut Media. “I don’t know if it’s the right precise policy. Whichever Republican runs in 2018, they’ve got to understand this: You’re not going to balance the budget or significantly reduce the deficit or, for that matter, attract new people and new businesses to the state unless you have growth-oriented tax cuts across the board. If the GOP runs root canal with Novocaine — just cutting the budget, cutting pensions for state workers and so forth — they’re not going to win.”
On top of the income tax, Kudlow said, taxes on corporations, property and inheritance, as well as regulations, make Connecticut one of the least competitive states.
“Who the hell wants to move to Connecticut?” Kudlow said. “It’s a tragedy. It’s a great state.”
S.E. Cupp, the conservative CNN talking head, also took notice of Boughton’s proposal.
“Yaaaassss, @MayorMark,” she tweeted Tuesday.
Boughton can use the additional exposure in a logjam of Republicans with gubernatorial hopes, which includes Tim Herbst, Trumbull’s first selectman; Peter Lumaj, the GOP’s 2014 nominee for secretary of the state; and Dave Walker, the former comptroller general under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Also on that list are Mark Lauretti, the longtime Shelton mayor; Prasad Srinivasan, a state representative from Glastonbury; Steve Obsitnik, a Westport businessman; Toni Boucher, a state senator from Wilton; and Joe Visconti, a former West Hartford councilman.
Themis Klarides and Len Fasano, the GOP leaders of the state House and Senate, haven’t ruled out running. Neither has Fasano’s predecessor, Fairfield’s John McKinney.
‘Here’s an opportunity’
Connecticut’s Republican Party boss from 2011 to 2015, Jerry Labriola Jr., said it takes courage to propose wholesale changes the way Boughton has.
“It’s bold, and not many candidates are willing to take bold positions,” Labriola said.
Looking to be the heir apparent to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who is not running for re-election, several Democrats are raising money for presumptive bids for the state’s top office. They include state Comptroller Kevin Lembo, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, Middletown Mayor Dan Drew, former Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris and former prosecutor Chris Mattei.
Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and state Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr. haven’t shut the door, either.
“Like many Republicans, Mark (Boughton) is doubling down on a trickle-down economic theory that’s never worked,” said Drew, head of the state’s Democratic mayors group. “If you ended the state income tax, particularly for the wealthiest people among us, then state deficits will explode even further and it will lead to the dissolution of many public services, including safety and education. It will hurt the economy in the long run.”
Lembo, the chief fiscal guardian of the state, declined to comment through a spokeswoman.
Should Boughton go from exploratory phase to a full-fledged candidate, he said, he will unveil a framework for eliminating the income tax and recalibrating state government.
“If you exist and live in the current status quo, you’re going to look at it and go, ‘where are we going to find $9 billion?’ ” Boughton said. “That’s part of the problem. The vision of the candidates in the field right now can’t see past the huge looming deficits to say, ‘Hey, wait here’s an opportunity.’ ”
But Boughton’s skeptics say that until the mayor fleshes out his proposal, it’s a leap of faith.
“Unless he’s got some other plan to magically raise money or eliminate the vast majority of the state spending, I don’t see how it could be viable,” said David Cadden, a professor emeritus in the School of Business at Quinnipiac University in Hamden. “It would put (the state) in bankruptcy.”
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