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    Saturday, April 20, 2024

    A state tax on a state fee? Seriously?

    In their desperate attempts to find revenue to balance budgets without having to cut spending, Connecticut legislators have done some asinine things, but the recent decision to impose a sales tax on the fees to enter a state park may be the most outrageous policy decision yet.

    If the idea was subjected to the normal rigors of the legislative process — committee review, a public hearing, input from the agency to be affected — there is no way such a sorry piece of policy would become law.

    However, this new law adding the 6.35 percent sales tax to the state park parking fee was not subject to any of that. Instead, it was added as part of the implementer bill during the one-day special session. The intent of the implementer is to provide the technical legislative language necessary to process the budget. Unfortunately, it becomes a vehicle for quietly approving various policies.

    Adding a sales tax on to the state park parking fee is wrong on several levels.

    First off, it is ridiculous to add a sales tax on a fee assessed by the state. What is next? Perhaps imposing a sales tax on the fee for a child day care center license, or on the cost of a homemaker companion certificate (yes, the state charges for that), or maybe on motor vehicle registration and driver’s license fees? Connecticut certainly has plenty of fees to tax.

    The sensible and honest thing to do, if insistent on wringing more money out of citizens, is to raise the fee itself.

    On the other hand — if you like lots of government — this approach utilizes one bureaucracy to collect the fee and another bureaucracy to process the tax. Does this mean the Department of Revenue Services can fine the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection — or perhaps suspend its authority to operate the parks — if it fails to properly collect the tax and fill out the necessary paperwork? Perhaps the two agencies will end up in court, helping job creation for another state bureaucracy — the Judiciary!

    Imposing the sales tax also means that instead of asking Connecticut residents arriving at Rocky Neck State Park in East Lyme this weekend to pay $13, visitors had to pony up $13.83. What a great way to make the process slower and more complicated on a hot day when traffic lines are long and the tempers short. Spend millions to attract visitors to the state, and then aggravate them when they arrive — “Brilliant!” Those out-of-state visitors had to pay $23.40 instead of $22.

    To be precise, the Democratic majority and governor are responsible for this policy, since they shut the Republican minority out of the budget talks. We called Adam Joseph, a spokesman for Senate Democrats, and Larry Perosino, a spokesman for House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, to find out who within the party deserves specific credit for the parking fee idea.

    Mr. Joseph said adjustments during the implementation process “are the product of ideas presented by the House and Senate leadership and the governor” as they work to firm up the budget. He added that the tax on the parking fees has to be weighed against cuts in human services that would occur without more revenue.

    Mr. Joseph had a difficult job in trying to make a case for this, but credit him for trying.

    DEEP Commissioner Rob Klee and his department only learned of the added tax after its approval. Department spokesman Dennis Schain said the department has to follow the law, like it or not. DEEP started with Rocky Neck, Hammonasset State Park in Madison, and Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, but will soon impose the tax at all 25 parks that charge parking fees, Mr. Schain said.

    Unless, of course, the legislature meets to repeal this ridiculous policy; something it should definitely do.

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