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    Monday, March 04, 2024

    Poverty worsening in state; and tax on nips falls short

    According to President Biden, Governor Lamont and liberal commentators like Paul Krugman of The New York Times, the economy is strong. But opinion polls find that most people disagree, and practically every week produces price increases far above what the federal government claims to be the inflation rate, 3.4%.

    Last week there were two announcements that poverty, not prosperity, is increasing in Connecticut.

    The governor said that since state government has raised the incomes qualifying for benefits in state government's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits will be extended to another 9,000 individuals and 5,000 households. This is expected to provide about $20 million more in cash benefits over the next year.

    The new food aid recipients also will become eligible for other federally funded services provided to the poor through state government.

    It was also reported last week that applications for state government's energy assistance program are running 23% higher than last winter, even as funding for the program is falling behind the rising demand. Last year the number of households receiving energy assistance exceeded 100,000 for the first time.

    The beneficiaries of these programs are not necessarily unemployed or unemployable. Many are working people holding lower-paying jobs who can't keep up with the sharply rising cost of living. Even if many of the beneficiaries have overextended themselves, carelessly undertaking responsibilities they can't afford, and even if the inflation rate is falling, prices are still going up and staying up.

    Inflation is weakening the economy, not strengthening it, and remains an offense by the government against the people.

    Still, people have no excuse to fall for government's claims of a strong economy when those claims contradict their own experience. Food and energy assistance from the government is no great favor when it merely refunds some of what government already has taken away through inflation.

    News reports last week celebrated the $9 million that has been paid to municipalities in Connecticut from the wholesale tax imposed in 2021 on the tiny bottles of liquor that are sold at the checkout counters of liquor stores and usually consumed quickly and discarded anywhere but in a trash can.

    The "nip" bottles are irresponsible products because they facilitate drinking while driving and cause litter everywhere. Their sale should be prohibited. People who want to keep breaking the law by drinking while driving could always invest in flasks and fill them at home.

    But the General Assembly can't stand up to the liquor lobby and so resorted to the wholesale tax on nips as what was purported to be a compromise. Yet the wholesale tax, 5 cents per bottle, doesn't really address the problems of the nips. It discourages neither consumption nor littering.

    Imposing a regular bottle deposit on nips might reduce their littering a little but not much until the deposit approached 50 cents, about half the price of a nip bottle. In any case, with millions of nips being sold in the state each year, few retailers have the room or the staff to deal with nip bottle returns. Indeed, a regular bottle deposit on nips might induce most retailers to stop selling them, which, while in the public interest, would cost the retailers money.

    A regular bottle deposit on nips wouldn't reduce drinking while driving at all. People who drink from nips while driving might just save a few empties to trade for their next nip purchase.

    The wholesale tax on nips is paid to state government by liquor distributors and then forwarded to municipalities in proportion to the number of nips sold in each one, with the money required to be spent on protecting the environment. This can include removing litter like nip bottles but it doesn't have to, and in most municipalities the money is not being used that way.

    So nip bottles keep trashing the state even as government collects a lot of new money in the name of problems it won't solve. Success!

    Chris Powell has written about Connecticut government and politics for many years. He can be reached at CPowell@cox.net.

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