In visit to Republican-American editorial board, Lamont discusses evolving views on tax increases

BY PAUL HUGHES REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

October 25, 2018

WATERBURY – Democrat Ned Lamont is fighting to convince Connecticut voters that he will not raise income taxes on anybody after floating the possibility of raising rates on the wealthiest taxpayers.

Lamont discussed his evolving position on taxes and his views on other policy questions Thursday during an interview 11 days before Election Day with the editorial board of The Republican-American.

The Greenwich businessman had raised the possibility of increasing income taxes on the state’s top earners earlier in the campaign when he was competing for the Democratic nomination.

“I think raising rates does not work in this day and age. I think you have reached tipping point on the income tax,” he said Thursday.

The income tax has been a front-and-center issue in the open contest to succeed Gov. Dannel P. Malloy because Republican nominee Bob Stefanowski is proposing to phase out the tax over eight years.

Malloy signed two rounds of income tax increases in 2011 and 2015. Income taxes are slated to raise $9.7 billion this fiscal year to support a $20.8 billion state budget.

Stefanowski is telling voters not to believe what Lamont is saying now about holding the line on the income tax, and Lamont is saying they cannot buy Stefanowski’s promise to eliminate the tax.

Lamont insisted Thursday that he has ruled out any more increases to the income tax, but he also acknowledged that he had put tax increases on the table.

He said he also would not raise the current sales tax rate of 6.35 percent.

Lamont said he does support requiring out-of-state sellers to collect sales taxes from Connecticut customers on all online transactions. Stefanowski shares this position.

“It drives some revenue, to be blunt, but just as importantly it levels the playing field for our local businesses to compete and survive,” Lamont said.

The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year reversed a 1992 decision that preempted states from requiring out-of-state sellers to collect sales taxes on remote transactions.

Stefanowski is stressing how he has been campaigning since December on a platform of phasing out taxes on personal income in eight years and corporate income in two years, and immediately ending the estate and gift tax.

Lamont is proposing to reduce the capital base tax rate that some businesses use to calculate corporate income taxes. He said Thursday that he supports the scheduled expiration of a surcharge on the corporation tax that was extended through the 2018 tax year.

“I’d love to take a look with our corporations how we raise revenue there,” he said.

Lamont cited one idea from the Commission of Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth that he would like to explore. The blue-ribbon panel of largely current and former business executives recommended a payroll tax be studied.

Lamont said the state might enact such an employer-side tax with a commensurate credit against state income tax liability to help businesses after federal tax changes capped deductions for state and local taxes.

Both Lamont and Stefanowski are proposing to eliminate a flat $250 tax that registered businesses must pay every two years.

Lamont highlighted his proposal to exempt businesses with less than $10,000 in taxable personal property from local property taxes. He also outlined his plan to gradually increase a credit for local property taxes against the income tax to $1,200 for some households.

Lamont said he would also eliminate a state tax on real estate transactions. The conveyance tax is budgeted to raise $209.4 million this year.

Lamont is also proposing to institute highway tolls targeting interstate truck traffic. Stefanowski is opposing tolls of any kind.

Stefanowski is accusing Lamont of flip-flopping on taxes and tolls.

Lamont said some of his thinking has evolved, but he charged Stefanowski, the Republican Governors Association and other groups are distorting his positions in campaign advertising, even though several featured recordings of him are accurate.

On tolls, he said he switched to a truck-only proposal after bipartisan opposition in the legislature thwarted legislation last session that could have led to universal tolling. He said he thinks that might be an alternative enough lawmakers would support.

Lamont singled out anti-Lamont ads that accuse him of wanting a statewide property tax. He said he raised the possibility of a single statewide rate on motor vehicles because tax bills for the same make and model of vehicle vary because of differences in local tax bases.

“Everybody is taking that out of context,” he said.

Lamont, 64, is married, and he and his wife have three adult children.

In 1984, he started a small company that provided specialized cable TV networks for college campuses and gated communities across the country. He sold Lamont Digital Systems for an undisclosed sum three years ago.