GOP lawmakers and supporters rally for tax cuts in East Lyme
East Lyme — Horns were blared and truck engines were gunned as motorists passed by more than a dozen Republicans rallying at Flanders Four Corners for tax cuts amid rising prices.
Among those at the rally holding signs against taxes and in favor of an "Affordable Connecticut" were Salem Republican Town Committee Chairman Vernon Smith and New London Republican Town Committee Chairwoman Kat Goulart. A faded black pickup truck revving its motor emphatically at the intersection led Smith to wonder if the driver was "friend or foe."
The Republicans were there calling for state lawmakers to return to the state Capitol in Hartford for a special session to pass about $750 million in tax cuts, including a temporary suspension of the diesel tax.
Goulart said the man behind the wheel of the truck had to be a friend of the cause. "You can't be foe and waste all that gas," she said.
Rallies are being held throughout the state following the June 7 news conference during which Republican legislators made their public plea for the special session.
The package of proposals includes an income tax reduction for moderate- and low-income residents, a meals tax suspension, a sales tax reduction, repealing the highway use tax for trucks, suspending the diesel tax and bolstering energy assistance funds, according to the Republican plan.
The GOP rallying cry revolves around the state's $956.4 million surplus, $746.2 million of which they say is available for immediate tax relief.
State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, attributed the surplus to money the state took in through sales taxes for goods and services that cost more now due to inflation. He said revenue has far exceeded the projections upon which the budget was balanced.
"So we think it's simply an overcollection of taxes, and there are easy ways to give it back," he said.
State Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, said she hears all the time from residents who are suffering financially in the current economic climate.
"Our citizens are in a world of hurt, and for the first time in ages we as a state are well positioned to help them, to give back some of those tax dollars that we've overcollected and return it to them."
The Republicans during this year's legislative session proposed a $1.2 billion tax relief plan. The Democrat-led General Assembly instead endorsed $600 million in tax cuts. While Gov. Ned Lamont and Democratic leaders have said they are proud of the tax cuts they passed, Republicans have argued that it isn't enough and the relief isn't long term.
Democrats have pointed to many examples of tax relief included in the state budget adjustment's tax relief package, including a child tax credit. Connecticut families can apply for the tax credit — worth $250 per child — starting June 1. The credit accounts for about $150 million in tax relief.
Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, in a news release following the Republican's news conference called the GOP proposal "a return to the fiscal irresponsibility of the past and a betrayal of future generations."
"The Republicans slash $750 million in debt payments which will not only cost taxpayers this year but will saddle them with millions in payments each year for the next 25 years," they said, likening the move to what they described as the failure of Republican governors John Rowland and Jodi Rell to keep pace with pension payments.
Formica on Friday pointed to $3.6 billion set to be used this year to pay down the pension debt, which he attributed to factors including a volatility cap instituted in a 2017 bipartisan budget deal.
The volatility cap formula directs surplus revenue into the state's emergency reserve, commonly known as the Rainy Day Fund, and as necessary uses it to address long-term obligations. It forces the legislature to take a more conservative approach to budgeting based on an averaging of revenues over time.
"We believe that's a prudent and thoughtful way to go," Formica said. "What we're talking about today doesn't affect that."
According to the Connecticut Mirror, the state has roughly $40 billion in unfunded pension obligations predominantly amassed between the late 1930s and 2010.
Among those at the rally, rising gas prices were the most common complaint.
Smith and Goulart, the Republican Town Committee chairmen from Salem and New London, both said it costs them about $120 to fill up the tanks of their pickup trucks.
Smith, a self-employed mirror maker, said he inherited his truck from his father, who died of COVID-19.
"I'm not in a position to buy a $60,000 electric vehicle," he said.
Goulart, who is the full-time caregiver for her parents, said her truck is 22 years old and she can't afford to replace it.
"It's cheaper for me, as much as it pains my wallet to fill up the truck, because I can't afford to buy a new one," she said. "Especially with supply issues and vehicle prices going up the way they are."
Edee Smith of Groton said she's on a limited income as a widowed retiree. "My little beat-up car costs me $50 to fill up with the same money that I had when it was $30," she said of her 2009 Nissan Sentra.
Bill Dwyer Jr. of Montville brought up the need for tax cuts in the context of the current tampon shortage, another supply chain issue causing prices to rise.
"I just stocked up on menstrual products for my granddaughter and I didn't realize that they're taxed," he said. "That's absurd."