In New London, Blumenthal pans Trump tax plan

New London — Democratic U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal attacked the Trump administration’s tax plan here Friday, taking special aim at the plan's elimination of the federal income tax deduction for state and local taxes, which he said would cost about a third of New London County taxpayers more than $4,000 a year.

“Elimination of the deduction would hit Connecticut like a hurricane,” Blumenthal said.

Mayor Michael Passero, also a Democrat, joined Blumenthal at a gathering outside City Hall, noting that the city, among the state’s most distressed municipalities, relies on property taxes to fund services.

Blumenthal arrived in New London after speaking in Norwich at a breakfast meeting of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, where he focused on meeting Electric Boat’s workforce needs and the promise of bipartisan agreement on rebuilding the nation’s — and southeastern Connecticut’s — infrastructure.

Eliminating the deduction for state and local taxes would have a devastating effect in Connecticut, New York and other northeastern states, as well as California, because of the high property taxes their residents pay, Blumenthal said. About a third of New London County’s taxpayers claim a state and local property tax deduction, with each of them saving, on average, about $4,296 annually, he said.

“The Republican tax plan would blow a $1.5 trillion-plus hole in the deficit while penalizing the middle class and passing huge tax breaks on to the wealthiest 1 percent,” the senator said, reading from a statement that referred to the plan as “a sucker punch to the middle class.”

Blumenthal said the plan would cut funding for “program after program,” including Medicare and Medicaid, assistance for housing and health care, including treatment of opioid addiction and abuse, and job training. He said such provisions as the elimination of the estate tax and repeal of the alternative minimum tax would benefit only the wealthiest of Americans, including President Donald Trump himself. 

“There’s no question we need to reform our tax code,” Blumenthal said. “It’s complicated, it’s unfair and creates disincentives for business investment. The average working family needs a better deal.”

He said he believes the plan is headed for the same fate as Republican-led efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which so far have failed to win passage.

Responding to a question about a topic he raised in Norwich, Blumenthal said he was “hopeful, not confident” that the U.S. will remain a member of the Paris climate agreement, from which Trump plans to withdraw.

In Norwich, Blumenthal said the state has received good economic news in the form of a defense authorization bill that calls for more spending on Connecticut-made submarines, fighter jets and helicopters than the president had requested. The question, he said, is whether the resulting workforce demands can be met.

“EB is going to be hiring thousands, not hundreds,” he said. “We need to expand our apprenticeship programs.”

Investment in infrastructure ought to be a top priority, Blumenthal said, calling the rebuilding of roads, bridges and airports “a job-creator without equal” and an undertaking that has “the potential to bring us together.”

He also brought up the situation in Puerto Rico.

“Imagine Connecticut three weeks after a hurricane: 3.4 million people with 90 percent of the (power) grid down, two-thirds of the roads impassable, half the people without drinking water ...” Blumenthal said. “That’s the state today of Puerto Rico.”

The poor condition of the island nation’s basic infrastructure is partly to blame for its slow recovery from the devastation of Hurricane Maria, he said, adding that the people there are suffering "through no fault of their own."

Blumenthal’s Washington office later announced that the senator is calling for an investigation of the Trump administration’s handling of relief efforts in Puerto Rico.

“I am deeply concerned about the administration’s overall inadequate approach to this catastrophe,” Blumenthal wrote in a letter to John Roth, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general. “The American people need to know whether the Trump administration is truly focused on helping the millions of Americans now suffering in Puerto Rico.”

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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