This year I am giving up politics for Lent. In lieu of complaining about local government, I want to share a ‘Thank you’ note to the New Canaanites helping me prep for my upcoming ultramarathon. This was not a New Year’s resolution (one-month survival rate: 64%). I just want to make some changes this year. My plan was to compete in an ultramarathon scheduled for late June with six months to prepare.
The new majority in Hartford is in the process of advancing several bills to force school regionalization in order to redistribute resources and remove decision-making from local schools. State Rep. Michelle Cook (D-65th) emphasized her view that such legislation should not be voluntary:
“I know that forcing people to do things is not always the right way to go, but sometimes we have to help people get there because they’re not going to get there on their own.”
One fellow supporter of forced school regionalization mocked grassroots efforts to oppose the bills:
“Over the last four days, we’ve seen people subject to great distress [laughter] over the idea of regionalizing educational services and I think that is a shame because a lot of communities have benefitted greatly by the structural inequities that are inherent in our system today.” — State Rep. Roland Lemar (D-96th), Majority Caucus Chair
One school regionalization bill’s sponsor, State Sen. Martin Looney (D-11th), indicated that his bill is the opening gambit in his larger effort to regionalize tax base “sharing.” With strong party majorities in both houses, the president pro tempore of the state Senate is well positioned to advance this effort. However, many local leaders have expressed opposition. “… It looks again that the legislature is looking to use policy as a blunt instrument in the state.” — Dr. Bryan Luizzi, New Canaan Schools Superintendent
“While New Canaan and Darien share many similarities, the reality is that New Canaan is already facing significant fiscal challenges. New Canaan carries the highest debt per capita in the state—a debt balance that is two times larger than Darien’s and carries annual debt service expenses that exceed Darien’s by almost 50 percent.
$1 billion of property value lost in decade-long rout
Half the town is in for a surprising tax hike in the New Year
Critical moment for staying competitive with neighboring towns
What happens when a town’s revenue base declines for a decade while the government goes on a spending spree?
We’re about to find out.
Home Value Rout
For revenue, New Canaan’s government relies on taxing property. That property is getting reassessed much lower—with a proposed assessment decline of more than $500 million representing a fair market value loss of almost $750 million. On average, more expensive homes have declined the most, with the assessment of homes previously assessed at between $2 million and $5 million declining by 10 percent. At the same tax rate, those property owners will pay for a smaller percentage of government spending as a result of that decline. A majority of New Canaan homes were previously assessed at under $1 million. Their new assessment shows an average 2 percent decline.
Congratulations to Connecticut Democrats on their trifecta in Hartford—our new Democratic governor will be utterly unconstrained by Republicans in any position of authority. In fact, any effective pressure on Governor-elect Ned Lamont will all come from his left. Progressive voices in both the upper and lower chamber are now a majority of the majority party.
What does that mean for New Canaanites? The most immediate impact is likely a tax hike by the middle of next year. The top marginal rate (the one that matters when it comes to economic growth and incentives) will get a big hike.
A resignation has opened up a seat on New Canaan’s Town Council. Many have already shared their views, including the view that the seat should be given to an unaffiliated voter or a Democrat. As an unaffiliated voter, I am grateful to hear about ways to better represent the significant number of unaffiliated voters. For another alternative, the New Canaan Democratic Town Committee endorsed Colm Dobbyn for the seat. Given the impressive showing that the Democrats recently made across Connecticut and in New Canaan, it is certain that future New Canaan elections will be competitive.